Laura Jean McKayNov 18, 2022
The Animals in that Country
Scribe US 2022
In this episode, I talk to Dr. Laura Jean McKay about her award-winning novel The Animals in that Country (Scribe US, 2020).
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, she has a particular soft spot for a young dingo called Sue.
As disturbing news arrives of a pandemic sweeping the country, Jean realises this is no ordinary flu: its chief symptom is that its victims begin to understand the language of animals — first mammals, then birds and insects, too. As the flu progresses, the unstoppable voices become overwhelming, and many people begin to lose their minds, including Jean’s infected son, Lee. When he takes off with Kimberly, heading south, Jean feels the pull to follow her kin.
Setting off on their trail, with Sue the dingo riding shotgun, they find themselves in a stark, strange world in which the animal apocalypse has only further isolated people from other species. Bold, exhilarating, and wholly original, The Animals in That Country asks what would happen, for better or worse, if we finally understood what animals were saying.
Kyle Johannsen is an academic philosopher who does research in animal and environmental ethics, and in political philosophy. His most recent book is Wild Animal Ethics: The Moral and Political Problem of Wild Animal Suffering (Routledge, 2021). You can follow him on Twitter @KyleJohannsen2.