He could not find a single thing more to say. I just want to be free. He could not say those stupid words. They had already withered in his mind, turned to dust. He did not even know, he marvelled now, what the hell those words had meant.
Stephen has a fairly mundane existence. He lives alone, works in a cafe at the zoo, and has few friends. The only shining light in his life seems to be his girlfriend Fiona and her two little girls, a fact that will surprise the reader initially, because Stephen is planning to break up with Fiona at the end of the day. First, though, he must get through the day, a day which promises to be anything but ordinary.
From having his bum nosed by the next door neighbour’s dog, to annoyingly inane conversations with his mother about the television she insists she ins’t buying, Stephen’s day meanders through a series of misfortunes. On the way to work he hits a woman in his car – then discovers she is a drug addict who refuses t go to hospital. At work he is forced to attend a bizarre team-building exercise, and after work he attends a party where it seems everyone, even the little birthday girl, despises him. Throughout all this Stephen is already mourning the loss of Fiona, who he clearly still adores, and worrying about how he will break up with her. A lot to happen in one day – yet, as I’ve already said, the plot meanders. there is no rush, no sense of this being a lot to fit into one day, though the reader feels the sense of impending doom as each new thing goes wrong in Stephen’s life, and wonders just when he’ll reach snapping point.
Animal People is a heart wrenching read. Stephen is a flawed, inept character, and it is hard to know just why he is so likable, yet by the end of the book the reader’s sympathies are definitely with him, to the point of anguish as it reaches its conclusion. He is also a character who stays with you after those final pages, wondering what happens next. The other characters in the book – both minor and major – are deftly drawn, with small details to draw them quickly in the reader’s mind, even if they don’t stay long in the story’s path. The mad man who sist next to Stephen on the bus, the possibly lesbian ladies who live next door, the paramedic moonlighting as a party fairy to help out her daughter, all come alive.
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