My work in progress Monkey See features a super-intelligent Spider Monkey named Chacho. Writing the character of Chacho has made me think a lot about the nature of ‘personhood’ and how other writers depict animals in fiction. Hence, Writers & other Animals—a blog series featuring a writer, their pet and one of their favourite books featuring an animal. My guest today is Ben Hobson, debut Australian author of To Become a Whale.
Above is Ben with his dog Lincoln: I call him Poochini and I don’t know why. He’s a dozey pup who loves cuddles and he’s super cheeky. His favourite thing is to gobble food we drop on the floor, and with two young boys there’s plenty of it. Unfortunately this habit did not do him well when Lena was changing our son’s nappy. Poop slipped out and landed on the carpet and before we could move, Lincoln had gobbled it down. We avoided licks from him for some time afterward. [Editor’s note – Um, I think that’s what you call Too Much Information!]
To Become a Whale tells the story of 13-year-old Sam Keogh, whose mother has died. Sam has to learn how to live with his silent, hitherto absent father, who decides to make a man out of his son by taking him to work at Tangalooma, then the largest whaling station in the southern hemisphere. What follows is the devastatingly beautiful story of a gentle boy trying to make sense of the terrible reality of whaling and the cruelty and alienation of his new world, the world of men.
Here is Ben on his favourite book featuring an animal:
The wolf from The Crossing, my favourite Cormac McCarthy novel, is the animal which stands out in my mind as the most distinct I’ve ever read in fiction. At the start of the novel Billy Parham and his father set out to trap the wolf – it’s been attacking local livestock – but find the task almost impossible. The wolf is too smart. Cormac actually provides a history to the wolf at one point, allowing us possibly more insight into its motivations than he often does with his main characters. Eventually Billy sets out, despite his father’s wishes, to capture the wolf by himself. He manages it, finding her caught by the leg in one of his traps. Cormac excels at charting the minutia of action – just people doing stuff – and the way Billy frees the wolf, muzzles her, decides that instead of killing her he was going to take her back to where she’d come from in Mexico, is beautiful and tragic, cruel and kind. Cormac is probably my favourite living author, this is my favourite of his books, and this is my favourite part.