Fauna by Alissa York

Fauna by Alissa York

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2011

From my TBR pile.

I’m not sure what drew me to this one, maybe it was the title.

Edal Jones, a Federal Wildlife officer, is falling apart.  One too many baby tortoises, packed in egg cartons and crushed in a suitcase.  She is home, on leave, exhausted, emotionally spent.

One morning, on a bike ride, she sees a young woman picking up stunned birds from around the glass towers of downtown Toronto.  She follows this woman into the Don Valley and discovers a small group of people and animals living in ways very different from those around her.

Fauna is mainly Edal’s story.  Named after one of the otters from Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water, she had joined the Federal agency to help wildlife, and finds herself devastated by loss.

     Having entered that room full of oddities, her thoughts are inclined to remain there.  As Baloo and Bagheera chase through the jungle after their beloved man-cub, her mind’s eye moves over confiscated grizzly rugs and black bear galls, a dried tiger penis, a leopard skin coat.   When they make a friend of Kaa, the massive rock python, she can only see wallets and handbags, hideous pointy-toed boots.  She manages to focus again during the great battle at the ruined city know as the Cold Lairs, but only until Mowgli tumbles down into the abandoned summer house and lands among the hissing hoods of the Poison-People.  Why would someone shove a cobra inside a bottle and pickle it?  More to the point, why would anyone spot such an atrocity in a marketplace and long to possess it, let alone attempt to smuggle it home?  From page 88.

This novel is also an interesting mix of characters, both human and animal, that live in this city and of the fragile connections between them.  It reminds me of how, even in a place of glass and concrete, life can flourish.  Something I find I need to remember.

And mixed in with all this is a love of books.  Each of the main characters has an important book in their past.  There is also the thread of The Jungle Book, read aloud following group dinners, and the effect it has on all who read and hear it.  York’s writing is rich in detail, precise, and hard-edged.  I found Fauna an interesting, enjoyable book.


Filed under Animals, Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge5, ContemporaryFiction, Thoughts

9 responses to “Fauna by Alissa York

  1. I love books that showcase a love of books, although this one sounds like a bit of a downer.

  2. I tried this book when it first came out, but I had a hard time getting into it. I will have to try again…

  3. I like the tone of this one. Love of books and nature… The fragility and resilience of nature is on my mind a lot lately…

  4. I have this book on my shelf, but have heard such mixed reactions to it. It sounds original, but I’ll have to read it for myself to see what I think – sounds interesting enough.

  5. This was one of my favourite reads from last year, but I was predisposed to love it because I’ve been following the author’s work since her first story collection. I think that she does what she does just brilliantly, and often that has a harsh side, so I understand why not everybody loves her work, but I’m so impressed. /gush

    My favourite aspect of Fauna is the way that the narrative itself is structured in such a way that it reflects the web-of-life, each individual creature playing an essential and complicated role, one segment of the novel devoted to one two-legged character and the next to a four-legged and and and… *contented sigh*

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