cover of the book The New Animals by Pip Adam

Pip Adam: The New Animals

The unprotected immediacy of life without words

I would describe the atmosphere of this book as dark, authentic, and raw. There is a struggle present all the way, from the microcosmos of employees in the fashion industry towards human-to-animal, or better said, animal-to-animal relationship, and finally, a solitary woman being splashed and surrounded by Earth's perhaps most alien environment: water, the vast sea surface of the planet. Everything in this writing seems to be the opposite of warmth, home, safety, and I was amazed and pulled into the final tearing away from the human world in the last part of the book, knowing also as a writer how difficult it is to wade into the wild but still talk about the weather, sky, sea, animals in a language that does not belong to those elements.

Maybe just the fact that a story, this fine web of words, can sometimes reach so deep into the wordless sphere of being, can be a truthful indicator of good writing? However subjective this might be. Words and reactions in our minds, ideas and their echoes in a deep mass that is us, the silent us, our inner world. All my favorite books touch the wordless part of me, that is a part of the magic that is still drawing us back to books.

I lack the whole picture, but there seems to be some strangeness, fresh roughness, humor, and alienation present in the fiction I've read from New Zealand. All humans in touch with the wild carry a specific feeling of solitude, maybe just because being close to something outside of human language and the extensions of human technology. I like reading something so literally from the opposite part of the globe that it surprises me; a text less in touch with Western literary traditions.

First things I've noticed with The New Animals was the importance of reciprocal feelings and reactions within friendships. These are observed and analyzed closely and into detail. Carla and Duey are friends since their twenties, their relationship is close, complicated, relaxed, but not without ambiguity and dark spots. For the large part, this is a book about the complexity of friendships. Two, three women – also Sharona, their peer – are described with admirable imperfection. I am attracted to a story that stretches beyond a polished symmetrical reciprocity into unpredictability of vast, uncontrollable mass – which life is – but still manages not to drown us in confusion. There are parts of this book that feel less balanced and grounded in the overall story than others.

When the threesome is presented in contact with Tommy and Elodie, decades younger people, the second focus of the novel is revealed: intergenerational conflicts and gaps. The narrator swiftly changes views according to each person telling the story.

There is something incomprehensible and rough about the third focal point: nature, which is also the title theme. It is first represented in Dugh, Carla's neglected pitbull gone wild, and as the story unfolds, it quickly becomes clear there is no easy solution for Dugh's life. Like most dogs, she is too dependent on human and changed by human society to be a part of the wild. We can only hope that Dugh will not end as many uncared-for dogs in real life do. There is nothing very rational or clear about Carla's relationship with Dough or Elodie's relation with sea animals when she enters the sea as her new living environment. That's where the story is headed: towards entering the nonhuman world of other animals, wilderness, and the water element – so different from the land and air to which we are adapted.

The moment Elodie swims away and stays off the land until the end of the book – the writing also changes: even if still thoughtfully crafted and articulated with great attention and style, it all the time reaches towards something beyond words in a similar way as being alone in the wilderness is an experience beyond words that can only partly and inadequately be described by language. Same as in Zen or Buddhist tradition, being and consciousness (of human and nonhuman animals) cannot be described, only lived.

There is something deeply disturbing and even scary in this articulated wilderness: the wordless Doug, his rage, isolation, and complete noncompliance, the vastness of the sea, the variety of incomprehensible creatures in its depths, the exchange of inhospitality, the clearly recognizable unfriendliness of the sharks, the whales, even the octopus companion. As Elodie swims away and slips off the language into immediacy of experience, she is also engulfed not only by the salty aquatic element but also confronted by and entangled into new relationships. Maybe it is this nonhuman element – while most of us are used to being surrounded almost exclusively by humans – the scariest thing, although it ought not to be. And the presence of death in this unprotected immediacy.