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The Animals in That Country

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  871 ratings  ·  209 reviews
Out on the road, no one speaks, everything talks.

Hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, and allergic to bullshit, Jean is not your usual grandma. She’s never been good at getting on with other humans, apart from her beloved granddaughter, Kimberly. Instead, she surrounds herself with animals, working as a guide in an outback wildlife park. And although Jean talks to all her charges,
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 11th 2020 by Scribe UK
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Average rating 3.56  · 
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The Animals in That Country is a wild ride. It’s got a terrific, bonkers premise: a pandemic that enables people to (sort of) communicate with animals. It has an indelible protagonist: the grizzled Jean, a loose unit if ever there was one, who manages to keep her shit together (but barely) only when granddaughter Kim is around. It’s original, bizarre and thought-provoking.

The title comes from a Margaret Atwood poem—In that country the animals / have the faces of people (that line alone really cr
Michael Livingston
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An astonishingly immersive experience, with 2 amazing central characters, one a grumpy middle aged woman and one a half-breed dingo. This is the kind of book that changes something in your brain, your perspective on the world and your understanding of what fiction can do. Incredible - it's going to be a hit. (Thanks to Scribe for sending me an early copy!) ...more
Scribe Publications
This is a game-changing, life-changing novel, the kind that comes along right when you need it, and compels you to listen to its terrifying poetry. Compulsively readable and yet also pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of language and narrative, this is a brilliant and disturbing book that will make you rethink everything you thought you understood about non-human animal sentience and agency. I don’t think any reader can ever forget a voice like Sue the dingo’s — wise and obscene ...more
Without a doubt, the premise of this novel was quite interesting and original.
Humans get infected with zooflu, which allows them to hear what the animals say and think. It makes them psychotic and unreasonable.

The main character and narrator of this novel is Jean, a middle-aged park guide. She's got a drinking/smoking problem, is foul-mouthed, and a bit of a mess, to put it kindly. She looks after her granddaughter, Kimberley, while her mother, Jean's de-facto former daughter in law, runs the an
Dec 17, 2020 rated it liked it

I can't decide if I liked this or not. It certainly has a propulsive, spiky energy that kept me turning the pages. The ambition and imagination are laudable but it didn't completely convince.

Is it peevish to get so hung up on the mechanism of action of a virus that causes victims to understand animals?. "Just let it go", I kept telling myself, roll with the talking dingo and enjoy the story. But the author went so far as to tell us the "Zooflu" is caused by an H7N7 subtype of influenza A
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arcs, best-of-2020
Wow, this book is a wild ride. The Animals in That Country is the kind of novel that is truly exciting. It is a debut that captures the living, breathing, visceral heart of the Australian landscape; where the line between the order of human society, and the wilderness of the animal world is wafer thin.

It would be easy to call this a pandemic novel (and that would push a few buttons at this moment in time). But McKay’s pandemic is so much more than an examine of a world in chaos, where fear and
M - The long hot spell
I’m not going to lie. McKay’s The Animals in That Country is an odd one. Odd, yet gritty, meaningful, disturbing and oh so Aussie. I had one gripe - that there were parts of this story that I found hard to follow but which, in this case, did not prevent me from giving the novel five stars overall.

Jean is a middle-aged woman who works at a wildlife sanctuary. She’s down-to-earth, like...way down, and I feel like I’ve met people similar to her over the years so I think McKay has done really well i
Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins
Earthy, visceral, at-times obscene and all-too-real, The Animals In That Country is nevertheless compelling and oddly buoying. McKay is a masterful storyteller, and her talent truly shines in this quest for family and belonging. Reading it reminded me that opportunity can arise from hardship, and reignited my hope that some good might come of it all.

My full review on Primer here.
A strange book, very creative and must have caused headaches for the author and her editors.
A pandemic novel but with a difference. People start to hear what animals are saying. Some can also smell, hear, taster and feel like the animals. Some can even hear birds and bugs. No Dr Dolittle as what is heard is not easily understood and is full of gibberish.
The narrator is a rough and ready woman who works in an animal sanctuary. She likes a drink and a smoke and is probably an alcoholic. Except for
Scribe Publications
This is a game-changing, life-changing novel, the kind that comes along right when you need it, and compels you to listen to its terrifying poetry. Compulsively readable and yet also pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of language and narrative, this is a brilliant and disturbing book that will make you rethink everything you thought you understood about non-human animal sentience and agency. I don’t think any reader can ever forget a voice like Sue the dingo’s — wise and obscene ...more
Mil Bishop
Jun 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
I'm clearly in the minority here.

This novel has everything I usually would love: topical (a miraculous synergy of viral pandemic and Tiger King) *and* dystopian literary fiction.

Instead, I found it really painful to engage with the onslaught of jumbled poetry from the animals, like Sue, and Jean, the alcoholic, emotionally masochistic grandmother, whose decisions are so unbelievable that it becomes very clear this novel is primarily plot-driven.

The ending fails to absolve the novel of its lack
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars - A very exciting debut. Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy meets Lucy Treloar's Wolfe Island. Full review to follow. ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘They’re still going on about that superflu on the radio.’

Jean Bennett is a tough middle-aged woman who works as a guide at a wildlife park in the Australian outback. She likes a few drinks (except when she’s looking after her granddaughter Kimberley) and she hopes, one day, to be a fully-fledged ranger. Jean likes the animals and talks to all of them, but a young dingo called Sue is her favourite. Kimberley’s mother, Angela, manages the park.

Life is disrupted. There’s a pandemic sweeping the co
Camila - Books Through My Veins
- thanks to @scribepub and @booksontherails for the opportunity to read this book💕

I am glad to admit that I am in the minority here, as this book has outstanding reviews on Goodreads, meaning that people are genuinely enjoying it, at least way more than I did. I cannot ignore that my rating also has to do with the fact that I had huge expectations around this novel, and that certainly didn't help at all.

One of my most significant issues was with Jean, the protagonist. She is an unlikable and aty
Oct 10, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, fiction
3.5 rounded down

A rollicking ride, The Animals in That Country is a pre-IRL pandemic pandemic tale. Are you still with me?! If so: this pandemic is one which, once infected with the flu-like illness, the sick are able to hear and speak to animals. I know many will likely want to avoid this type of story during an actual global epidemic (me included for the most part), but I found this to be a unique and broadly impressive take on the theme.

Our protagonist, Jean, works as a tour guide at an outba
Robert Lukins
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a cracker this is.

Completely original, funny, heartbreaking, unexpected, terrifying, hopeful, and so beautifully and warmly rendered.

A compelling and urgent book about compelling and urgent things.


Laura Jean McKay has a PhD in literary animal studies from the University of Melbourne and serves as an animal expert and presenter on Australia’s ABC radio show Animal Sound Safari. Pair her academic background with the fact that this second book of hers shares a title with a Margaret Atwood poetry collection and you’ll have some idea of what to expect here: mysterious but mostly believable speculative fiction that hinges on human communication with animals.

Jean Bennett isn’t your average grand
Abbie | ab_reads
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
(#gifted @scribe_uk) I was feeling brave (read: crazy) enough to read a book about a viral flu pandemic during lockdown, and I'm happy to say the courage/stupidity paid off! The Animals in That Country is an original, creative, at times incredibly frustrating debut, but that frustration is worth it.
Set in Australia (I should read more books set in Australia, especially if the characters are like Jean), in a future where ZooFlu is sweeping the country, a viral phenomenon that allows communicatio
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020-reviews
This wholly original novel is unique in so many ways, not least of which is its premise: there’s a flu-like pandemic raging across Australia that allows those infected to understand what animals are saying. But being able to communicate with non-humans — including mammals, birds and insects — isn’t as wonderful as you might expect, for the messages, random, garbled and incessant, are frightening: the animals are calling for help.

I ate this book up in the space of a weekend. I would put it down a
Emily (em_isreading)
Either McKay was ahead of the zeitgeist when she wrote this, or we just live in the dystopia now. The premise: a pandemic sweeps the nation from the south giving those effected the ability to communicate with animals.

As a protagonist, Jean is unfailingly human. She is deeply flawed, an alcoholic, chain-smoking, tattooed Granny who has a habit of sleeping with some very wrong men. She just barely holds it together for her granddaughter, Kimberly. When the pandemic reaches their remote animal san
Leesa Lambert
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What would happen if your childhood wish to speak to animals came true? This novel suggests that the dream would be a devastating nightmare. Heartbreaking.

This frighteningly timely novel calls into question the state of our humanity.

News footage and photos covering food and fuel shortages caused by the bushfire emergency seem like they were taken directly from scenes from this prescient book.
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
(review to come)
Oct 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stella-project
''You're supposed to wear a mask. Not supposed to talk with the animals." She takes a dainty sip. 'New government flyers say that. And on the internet. Keep to your kind."

Jean enjoys her days living at the Wildlife Park. Jean has a wizened edge, and is hard drinking, talking & smoking. She dreams of becoming a ranger but is content with her job as a tour guide and spending time with her granddaughter, Kim, who is the only person she will scrub up & abandon her vices for.

News of a pandemic travel
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Such a bold and burning story, a fittingly vivid sensory overload. Laura Jean McKay nails it – of COURSE this is how animal communication would translate to human language. Of course, of course.

I’m sure the prospect of reading a novel about a fictional pandemic while living in the midst of an actual pandemic doesn’t appeal to everyone, but if the very thought doesn’t scare you off – this is the one to read.
Ally McCudden
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
Good premise. Good start of the book, but unfortunately it was downhill from there for me. I struggled with the writing style once the animals started talking and I got confused with the plot at points. Not really any likeable characters which is normally fine for me. But in this instance where it is a survival story, I genuinely did not care what happened to our main cast.
Cass Moriarty
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Animals in That Country (Scribe 2020) by Laura Jean McKay is certainly one of the most unusual literary novels you’ll ever read. Set in a recognisable world, but at the time of the appearance of an infectious contagion (sound familiar, anyone?), the book describes what happens when the flu-like virus spreads across Australia. As the pandemic creeps up from the southern states, the chief symptom is the most critical: infected people begin to understand the language of animals, first mammals, ...more
Erin Cataldi
Nov 30, 2020 rated it liked it
This was.... an odd ride. It was completely unique and I wasn't sure where the story was going to take me but I had a fun time on the way. A pandemic rips through Australia and those effected have the ability to understand animals. People aren't sure if they're hallucinating or conversing with animals but the whole country has gone mad. People start liberating animals from zoos, sanctuaries, and farms and the whole continent is a madhouse. Jean has worked at a sanctuary for years, alternating be ...more
Bryn Hammond
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I don't know where you'd get more plausible talking animals. It isn't pretty -- it's disturbing -- although the animal speech often reads like modernist poetry.

ARC from NetGalley
May 17, 2020 rated it liked it
In ‘The Animals in That Country’ by Laura Jean McKay a flu pandemic that causes those infected to communicate with animals spreads across Australia. At first I was unsure if this was the best time for me to read pandemic literature during this time. For me the story, and the way in which it portrayed the effects of ‘Zooflu’ on the world, was more an exploration of language and communication and the place that we have in the natural world around us, than a dystopian pandemic story. People who are ...more
Bear Reads Books
Oct 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. This was a wild and crazy ride. Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Dr Dolittle. A road trip book of pandemic proportions, let down by some structural issues, the story jumping forward in time and place without explanation.
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Laura Jean McKay is the author of The Animals in That Country (Scribe 2020), winner of The Victorian Prize for Literature 2021, The Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction 2021 and shortlisted for The Readings Prize. She is also the author of Holiday in Cambodia (Black Inc 2013). Laura is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University. ...more

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