Oh – hello there! You startled me! I didn’t expect anyone else to be awake in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. Did you, as I did, fall into the clutches of such a captivating book that you simply couldn’t close your eyes and sleep? That’s why I’m still awake, curled up in the corner of my easy chair with a soft blanket wrapped round my shoulders and a mug of hot cocoa at my side.
And what is this bewitching story, a novel so inviting, with characters so charming, I couldn’t bear to set them aside for a few hours?
Called The God of Animals, a first novel from Aryn Kyle, it’s the story of 12 year old Alice Winston, who’s helping her father run the family horse ranch in Desert Valley, Colorado. Alice’s older sister Nona, the golden girl of the family, has recently absconded with a rodeo cowboy. Alice’s mother Marian, had taken to her bed not long after Alice’s birth. “Before we came along,” Nona told Alice, their mother had been a horse show star, had “won right and left, even had her picture in the paper.” One day she handed baby Alice over to Nona, “said she was tired and went upstairs to rest. She never came down.”
And so Alice is left with her taciturn father, a man caught in a perpetual struggle to make ends meet by teaching spoiled little girls and boarding horses for spoiled older girls. Alice’s hunger for love and attention permeates this novel, and I long to reach into the story and put my arms around her. Kyle’s writing style is clean and spare, as befits her subject- life on a ranch- not a word wasted, yet each one performing its duty admirably and thoroughly.
“I kept waiting for my father to be struck dumb by my ability to get everything done by myself, to shake his head in amazement and ask what my secret was. Day after day, I forked fresh straw into every stall and used the hose to wash out the corners of the barn after I had swept. And day after day, my father said nothing.”
The God of Animals is one of those rare books you can’t seem to put down, but are also loathe to finish. The kind of book that completely absorbs your attention, with characters so compelling, you’re surprised not to find them sitting at the breakfast table with you.
You really must read it.
Sadly, I can’t give the same recommendation to The Gathering, Anne Enright’s Booker Prize winning novel about an Irish family who gathers for the burial of their son/brother, Liam, who committed suicide. And really, it’s more about Liam’s sister, Veronica, who seems consumed with guilt about a “secret” she has kept regarding her brother’s life, a secret she feels may have contributed to his death.
Enright is obviously a gifted writer, capturing the particular lilt of the Irish and Veronica’s tortured psyche equally well. But somehow, I could never muster up any sympathy for any of these people, Veronica included. And while I did continue reading until the book’s conclusion, I found the experience more disturbing than satisfying.
However, if you would like to read the novel and form your own opinion, I’m offering my copy to the first commenter who who expresses a desire to decide for themselves.
Meanwhile, I’m back to The God of Animals, and dear little Alice, whom I’m afraid has started looking for love in all the wrong places. I’m actually quite concerned…
And I’m afraid I’ll never get any sleep tonight.