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Good Reads Review: The Animals In That Country

**spoiler alert** You’ve heard the premise before. Humans are able to understand animals. Humans get a disturbing insight into the way they treat animals. It feels like we’ve been down this road plenty of times before, right? That’s what I thought too… then I started reading.

I’m not going to mince words here, this latest offering from Laura Jean McKay is an incredible achievement in storytelling, and absolutely worth your time.

The Animals in That Country tells the story of Jean, a foul-mouthed granny with an addiction to the bottle, who works at an outback wildlife park run by Ange, the mother of her grand-daughter Kimberly. Jean is an outsider in this world, finding solace only with her grand-daughter and with the animals in the park, especially a dingo named Sue.

However, a mysterious pandemic begins to sweep across the country that causes people to begin to understand animals and lose their minds. When it hits the park, Jean has to summon all her strength to keep her family alive.

Considering the times we live in, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this book couldn’t be more inappropriate to read, given the real-life fear of COVID-19 sweeping the world. However, don’t be fooled; McKay does so much with this insanely weird and dark premise: it lurches from being gut-bustingly hilarious to genuinely chilling and horrific, to hopeful and optimistic. By the final page, you’ve not just witnessed all the experiences that Jean and her family go through, you’ve felt it. You’ve been right there, along with them.

Central to this is McKay’s masterful characterisation of Jean: this granny is vulgar, opinionated, hilarious and, under her tattered exterior has a heart of gold. She is the soul of this book, and her perspectives on this increasingly desperate situation is what makes the book so compelling.

This is especially the case in the second half of the book, which turns into an unlikely road trip with an even more bizarre companion. This is also where the full extent of this pandemic, and the chilling effects it has, is made apparent.

There are so many fantastic moments that stand out in this book: and an ending that clings to you, long after I put the book down. McKay’s usage of language to show how the animals communicate is one of the most unsettling parts of the book, but also, weirdly, at times the most comforting.

The Animals in That Country is a book that, given the times we are in, may slip under people’s radar. That is a pity, because it is a contender for one of the best Australian novels of the year. McKay announces herself with this outstandingly creative look into the relationship between humans and animals, and it will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.


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