Book review: “The Council of Animals”

All eyes are on you.

Twelve of your peers have decided your fate, and you haven’t a clue what they’ll say. None of their faces are readable. Nobody’s smiling but then again, there are no scowls. Will they find this court case favorable for you, or will this go bad? You just can’t tell because, in the novel “The Council of Animals” by Nick McDonell, their faces are all furry.

The abandoned yacht was perhaps not the best place to call a meeting, but that’s where everyone was told to gather. The dog arrived first, followed by the horse and the bear. The cat arrived just before the crow, and the baboon called them all to order.

Nobody denied the argument the crow put forth: Humans caused The Calamity. The Calamity destroyed nearly everything, including the humans, all but maybe a dozen or so. And now the animals needed to decide if they should eat the humans that were left.

Aye or nay?

Now, you might be surprised that there wasn’t more confusion at the meeting. Making a point, the baboon threw a stick for dog to fetch. Horse talked non-stop about sugar cubes. When the representative for the mice arrived, the cat pounced. It was chaotic, but remember that animals were always able to communicate amongst themselves by speaking grak, and so their behavior, however shaky this time, was natural.

Almost immediately, the dog and the bear said “no” to killing the humans. Horse said she loved her jockey but her vote was still “yes,” probably because the baboon found some sugar inside the abandoned yacht. The cat said “no,” the crow said “kill,” and when the mythical creature arrived with its “yes” vote, it appeared that the decision was made.

But before the proceedings could move any further, the dog, the bear, and the cat escaped to forestall the deaths of humans. They needed time to think, and the cat’s cave was the perfect place to do it…

Though this book is a little hard to describe, let’s try: if “Lord of the Flies” and “Animal Farm” hatched a clutch of large reptile eggs underground beneath a theme park, the result would be “The Council of Animals.” 

That’s not to say that this book is weird. It’s just not like anything you’d expect in a book about animals taking over, and aspects of it – godas and giant lizards, or maybe the comic-like, blatant anthromorphism that snags the story toward the end – feel jarring enough to almost ruin things sometimes. And yet, because author Nick McDonnell’s story is narrated by a “historian” who’s looking back at what happened from decades past The Calamity, there are laughs here and a quasi-parable that some readers might appreciate.

Some, but not all because, well, okay, this book is a little more than a little different and you’ll need extra suspense of belief with it. If you can manage that and you like allegories, “The Council of Animals” might be a book to lay your eyes on.

“The Council of Animals” by Nick McDonell

c.2021, Henry Holt $25.99 / $34.99 Canada 208 pages

Author Nick McDonell. Photo credit to Roopa Gogineni.