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The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy
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's review
Sep 26, 09

Read in September, 2009

I shouldn't have been surprised at how much I liked this. I've enjoyed everything else I've read by Gowdy. But I'm not one to pick up an "animal story", and the numerous pullquotes from reviews put me off somewhat. You know: poignant, important, powerful story of animal suffering. Please.

Barbara Gowdy's skill as a novelist is probably the main reason for my appreciation of this work, but her approach, while not unique, also contributes. Rather than using extensive anthropomorphism for maximal empathic pull, or uncompromising biological fidelity, she imagines a social and intellectual perspective for her animal characters based on an invented independent culture, particular to each species. By crafting this elaborate elephant culture -- including kinship structures; naming rites; birth, death and mating rituals; social hierarchy; division of labour; and a complex mythology rich with symbolism -- Gowdy bypasses the need for the elephants to crudely approximate human experience, and instead gives them a space of their own to grieve, resent, trust or desire. This extends to the interactions between the elephants and other species, in a way that's curious, delightful and, yes, surprising.

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