Friday, April 16, 2021

The Council of Animals - Nick McDonell


Nick McDonell’s The Council of Animals is likely to be the most unusual novel I will read in 2021. Publisher Henry Holt & Company calls this one “a captivating fable for humans of all ages,” and that’s not an overstatement. Comparisons to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, numerous as they are certain to be, are also appropriate because of how in both books animals rebel against humans and try to build a better, fairer world for themselves. 


The animals in The Council of Animals, however are considering a question that goes a giant step further than the animals in Animal Farm were prepared to go; they are meeting to discuss whether or not the few humans who have survived The Calamity deserve to live. If the vote goes against the humans, they will all be killed and eaten. The council that will decide the fate of the humans consists of a bulldog, a horse, a bear, a cat, a crow, and a baboon, each of whom has been chosen to represent its species. They are gathered to cast their own votes while they wait for the arrival of the “mythical” animal that will cast the pivotal (if it comes to a 4-3 split) seventh vote. 


The debate soon becomes heated, even dangerous to its participants, and the animals, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not, soon prove that their own nature is really not very different from that of humans who have by now practically destroyed the environment. Much of the fun in The Council of Animals, in fact, comes from watching animal behavior so closely mimic all the finger-pointing and other foolishness that is all too common today: claims of cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and looking down upon what are perceived by mammals to be the inherently lesser species. When it is revealed, for instance, that dogs are often denigrated by the other animals with their own version of the N-word, I almost laughed out loud. Amusing misdirections like that one, though, make the book’s overall message and surprising ending even more memorable than they otherwise would have been. 


Bottom Line: The Council of Animals is a book I can envision being used in classrooms around the world for years to come, much like Animal Farm has been used for the last several decades. Its clever use of humor and its suspenseful plot keep the reader — no matter what age — turning pages until its deeper message seeps in. This deceptively simple novel has a lot to say about us and the world we have created. Maybe, just maybe, it will open a few eyes as to what is important — and what is not.


Steven Tabbutt's illustrations, sprinkled throughout the book, have a nostalgic feel about them, and I found myself looking forward to them. This one is typical of Tabbutt's style:



(Click on the image for a larger view.)



Review Copy provided by Publisher

10 comments:

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    1. I do think you would enjoy it, Jeane. The author's take on the various animal species is fun, and the way he used their characteristics to make points about humans is very effective.

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  2. Sounds a little too unusual for me, but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. I really did, Susan. Sometimes something as different as this one is comes along at just the right moment.

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  3. Interesting concept...and intriguing, too. I'm curious to know if the vote ends up being for, or against humans. Guess I'll have to read it to find out. ;D

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    1. Ha...can't tell you, other than to say there's a nice twist to the way it ends that I didn't see coming at all.

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  4. Replies
    1. You might like this one, Diane. Depends,I suspect, on your mood and what else you've been reading.

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  5. Wow! I'm a little frightened for humanity--especially since we can assume that humans caused The Calamity.

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    1. We never get details on exactly what kind of calamity has almost wiped out the human population, but it's definitely their fault. And that's definitely part of the animal debate.

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