Appearing in a year defined by a global pandemic, Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in That Country is unnervingly prophetic. Its central premise is a pandemic, the key symptom of which is the ability to understand animals. But this is no Dr Doolittle fantasy, McKay takes this premise to its zenith, masterfully exploring what we might learn if we could understand our nonhuman fellows, and the potential psychic collapse this might entail. What follows is disturbing and darkly comic, disrupting anthropocentric assumptions, revealing how animals might see our often violent intrusion into their lives. McKay’s unconventional vehicle for this experiment is straight talking, hard drinking Jean,grandmother and part time employee at a Northern Territory wildlife park. As the pandemic’s alarming impacts grow, Jean embarks on a journey south to track her family, accompanied and at times controlled by dingo, Sue. McKay’s innovation lies in the startlingly newness of the plot and the innovations in form in conveying animal voices as agentic and different, voices with diverse cadences, prioritising other senses and relationalities and always species specific. The Animals in that Country marks a striking new moment in animal representation in Australian fiction.
Laura has also won the 2021 Victorian Prize for Literature, the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, and the 2021 ABIA Small Publisher’s Adult Book of the Year Award. She has been shortlisted for the 2021 Stella Prize, the 2020 Aurealis Awards’ Best Science Fiction Novel, the 2020 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, and been longlisted for the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Congratulations to Laura and all the shortlisted authors.