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Fauna Paperback – Jul 26 2011
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Quill & Quire
Alissa York’s Fauna is an extraordinary novel. A departure from the author’s previous, more historically minded works (including 2007’s Scotiabank Giller Prize–nominated Effigy), Fauna takes place in the hidden, wild corners of present-day Toronto, where the titular animals are rats and raccoons, coyotes and cats, injured foxes by the roadside and dead birds at the bases of office towers.
The book’s human characters live on the fringes of urban society. Edal, on stress leave from her job as a federal wildlife officer, encounters a homeless teenager gathering dead birds from the sidewalk. The girl flees upon approach, and Edal follows her to a curious dwelling on the edge of the Don Valley, where sick and injured creatures (and people) are taken in and cared for.
Realizing that the makeshift shelter violates wildlife regulations, Edal is conflicted about her association with the group, and must hide her official role from the others, whose backstories of loss and trauma York reveals over the course of the novel. When mutilated coyote carcasses begin appearing in the ravine – clearly the work of a vigilante hunter – the group must acknowledge the limits of its power to protect the city’s fauna, and Edal is prodded to put her life back together again.
York does not use Toronto as a mere backdrop; her novel evokes the city with remarkable specificity. The Don Valley is at the centre, with its roaring traffic, winding river, and incongruous wilderness teeming with life. The valley is bordered on one side by the affluent Cabbagetown neighbourhood and a city-run farm, on the other by a Chinatown whose alleys are prime scavenging grounds for raccoons. The story tracks its characters through these neighbourhoods, back and forth across the Riverdale Footbridge, and into outlying areas, creating a picture of Toronto that bears scant resemblance to the city many of us think we know.
York pulls off a daring feat by having the animals themselves narrate a few passages, managing a most unsentimental portrayal – these animals are vermin, and it’s a dog-eat-rabbit world out there. But it’s also a world whose connections to literature are strong: Fauna calls to mind works such as Watership Down, The Jungle Book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Wild Animals I Have Known.
York’s exceptional novel shows that books, like cities, are enlivened by their wild populations.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Rich and strange and deeply satisfying. Whether she’s adopting the voice of a homeless teen, a yuppy vet, or a famished coyote, York writes with a spare, unsentimental fluency that connects strangers, enemies, species. Fauna reminds us of the life that swoops and slithers and lopes and pounces all around us, even in the most urban of worlds; a wild life we share and ignore at our peril.” —Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean
“Fauna is the sort of rare novel that can change the way you see your world. Its cast of misfits and dreamers is united by their visceral connection to the forgotten animals surviving in the green patches of our big cities. This book is beautiful, unusual and memorable. And Alissa York is a daring and original talent.” —Jim Lynch, author of Border Songs
“Layered with astonishing detail, with every location vividly evoked and every action a visceral experience.”
— The Globe and Mail
“One of the novel’s strengths is the way York turns her gaze from the human world to the world of Toronto’s skunks, coyotes, raccoons and squirrels. . . . Even as she brings animals to life with her writing, she is clear about the terrible toll taken by everything from cars, to skyscraper windows, to live electrical wires.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“Lyrical. . . . Fauna is well crafted, morally serious and even noble in its sensitivity.”
— Toronto Star
“An extraordinary novel. . . . daring and exceptional.”
— Quill & Quire (starred review)
“A tender and beautiful novel.”
— NOW (Toronto)
From the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
There is no doubt that the writing is beautiful, York's narration is stunning, not to mention she wrote the entire book in the present tense which is an art unto itself I believe.
What struck me about this novel is its realism - this book follows 6 people (and a few fauna) over the course of roughly 7 days, interspersed with flashbacks that slowly reveal what each character is going through emotionally.
I kept waiting for something huge to happen - a big event, adventure, something... and I believe that this is why after reading it I wasn't sure I liked it.
Now, looking back, I realized that this book is beautiful in its representation of real life - and real wild life. York gives you an intimate look into the lives of people that you probably meet every day - the Edal's struggling with emotional stress, the Lily's finding independence and voice, the Kate's who are suffering a deep loss... and the wildlife she uses to narrate some passages - they are all individuals whose personal stories permeate the world around us, these characters could walk off the page, so deep is their development. York artfully expresses each character's personality and interactions with each other - they are all connected somehow, through love, loss, life, and wildlife.
Overall, this book is a piece of art - it's like nothing I have ever read before and I would recommend spending some time pondering the realities York presents after you close the back cover.
Alissa Yorke imagines an auto wreckers in this ravine, with a secret sanctuary for the injured fauna of the title. All of the characters who cross paths here are recovering from or distancing themselves from a loss. Most interesting is Edal, a federal wildlife officer on stress leave, torn between reporting the illegal operation and watching the wildlife she is sworn to protect heal. There’s also a coyote-shooting fringe element, and of course, the wildlife itself.
Read this if: you are interested in the role that animals and humans play in the healing of the other; or you live in or near Toronto (or another large urban centre) and want a glimpse of the hidden world amid the concrete that is the Don Valley. 4 stars
The novel itself is solid. And by this, I mean it hangs together nicely. (Except the ending.) There are multiple storylines, many intersections. I was reminded of Robert Altman's films, or Paul Haggis's or 'Magnolia' by Paul Thomas Anderson. But the delivery was- Well, that of a contemporary fiction novel. There is no pretension, no showing off, just the individual tales.
Not everything works. The exploration of character isn't handled as well as I think it should have been. And perhaps it could have benefited from an injection here and there of CanLit blood. However...
...'Fauna' is a love story, a paean to wildlife. That 'Ring of Bright Water' and 'The Jungle Book' are regularly referenced...indeed, integral parts of the story...is no surprise. And for this reason alone, I'm willing to cut Ms York some slack. As well as looking forward to her next offering.