Apr/May 2018 Reviews & Interviews

Granta 142: Animalia

Granta 142: Animalia.
Sigrid Rausing, editor.
Granta. 2018. 248 pp.
ISBN 978 1 900889 125.

Review by Ann Skea

Buy now from Amazon! As usual, Granta is full of well-written and interesting articles, stories, poems and photography. Issue 142, Animalia, embraces all the ways in which we interact with the animal kingdom.

In John Connell's account of returning to work on his parent's farms in rural Ireland, he vividly recreates the difficult, emotional, and often hazardous experiences this entails. He is a novice at working on his own, and his description of helping a cow to birth a calf stuck in the birth-canal keeps the reader on edge through the whole traumatic process. Diagnosing and treating a lamb with bloat—and failing to save it—is also an emotional roller-coaster for him. And dehorning young calves in bleak February weather, when he is exhausted from days and nights as "a servant to cows," makes him wonder what it is all for.

Helge Skodvin photographs stuffed museum animals that have been prepared for removal to temporary storage—a giraffe lies face-down with cushions under its neck and chest; an Orangutan hangs from a disconnected branch and peers through a window at European trees. Some of these creatures are threatened with extinction in the wild, and these specimens may eventually be the last of their kind. Ned Beauman, in his introduction to the photographs, refers to the demise of the last known taxidermied dodo in 1755, 90 years after the living animal had become extinct.

In a totally different story about taxidermy, Steven Dunn imagines a museum of military dioramas in which the specimens are soldiers who have died in battle. He interviews the chief taxidermist, the staff, and a museum visitor.

There are stories, fact and fiction, of rat-snipers employed to kill giant rats in an American city; of returned astronauts living, in their space suits, with American families; of the annual deer cull in Scotland; of a future in which "the last children of Tokyo" have never seen a live animal; of swifts that live their whole lives in the air; and of unusual animals—coyotes, speedy the dog, a pet wolf cub, and arch thief and schemer, Rocky the racoon. There are hawks, swine, turtles, fish-farms, a "batshit rooster," and a magpie with which Esther Woolfson once shared her house. Eliot Ross's black-and-white photographs of big-eyed animals challenge and intrigue the viewer. And Dorothea Lasky imagines poets as snakes—"very snittering creatures."

On a farm, genetically engineered animals chat about life: "No one wants leaner and tastier meat from us any more," the sheep said. "Or rather they want that too but they particularly want our organs..." and Wilhelmina pig ponders what the future might hold for her pretty piglets.

Arnon Grunberg asks if "in order to live, do we have to be prepared to kill?" He visits a slaughterhouse, butchers, and meat-packers, and ponders, ironically, his reactions to the whole process. He decides he will not become an animal activist or a vegetarian. And Aman Sethi investigates reports of a man-eating tiger killing Indian villagers. He talks to the villagers, conservationists, tiger-hunters, and government officials and discovers the complex arguments such killings provoke.

All this, and more, make for a varied and often curious but always interesting volume. And even the cover is curious: on the back are definitions of "animal," "human," and "LOLcat." Good reading!


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