Thank you to Bookshine and Readbows for this lovely review!
We Are Animals is an extraordinary story about some very ordinary people.
The story begins, and ends, on a beach (different beaches). Jan is a ‘moustache’ (older man, firmly entrenched in his opinions and resistant to change) and Sharkey is a ‘vest’ (young, full of spirit and spirits, and looking for himself at beach discos). Gradually the older man’s prickly disdain and the younger man’s gormless curiosity settle into a kind of holding pattern, and Jan begins to tell his life story, the story of his love for – and loss of – a girl (also called Jan).
Manjan’s story (to differentiate him from Ladyjan, his lady-love) is told in flashes back and forth. He starts with his very ordinary childhood in Fishton, England, and from there he recounts how he ended up travelling the world with a variety of very different companions, and how time after time Fate threw him directly into the path of Ladyjan, or she into his.
Nor was that the only coincidence that Fate had up her sleeve. Manjan’s whole story is in intricate web of unlikely coincidences, that see him travelling from England to Sweden, Russia, Poland, India, Goa (then round again) and yet keep bumping in to the same small number of people. It reminded me a little of Forrest Gump, only instead of innocently influencing world events, Manjan obliviously influences the lives of the ordinary people around him, often without even being aware that he has.
So far, so unlikely plotwise. What makes this story special, is the emotional pull it carries. Each ‘ordinary’ person that Manjan – and therefore we – meets has their hopes and dreams, sorrows and disappointments, and we find ourselves caring about them, even as they pass swiftly by. At one point I found myself crying over a small, nameless quail!
We Are Animals is a beautifully repeating pattern of small moments of happiness and sadness, mixed with plenty of humour, pathos and an unbelievable number of coincidences. It is also the story of how we touch each others lives, unknowing, as we move around the planet focused intently on our own priorities, like a cow intent on grass who finds herself on a beach, a cockroach banging up against the same wall repeatedly, or a quail who can’t stop thinking about her eggs.
Both amusing and profound, this book stands out from the crowd, and will stay with you long after the sounds of the silent disco fade.
Manjan now adopted a strict ‘no vest’ policy when it came to his story, but he had warmed somewhat to this particular vest. There was a chance that Shakey would listen. Manjan supposed that Shakey might laugh, but he doubted that he would wander off. In fact, he was beginning to doubt that Shakey would ever leave.
‘Sorry, can you start again? I wasn’t listening,’ Shakey said.
‘I hadn’t begun,’ Manjan replied.
There was a severe lack of intelligence in Shakey, but there certainly wasn’t a lack of honesty.
Manjan sipped his wine and looked out to sea.
‘For the purposes of the story,’ he started, ‘let’s just assume that Ladyjan was fit.’
– Time Ewins, We Are Animals