The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle

the octopus and ITitle: The Octopus and I

Author: Erin Hortle

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 15th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A stunning debut novel set on the Tasmanian coast that lays bare the wild, beating heart at the intersection of human and animal, love and loss, and fear and hope.

Lucy and Jem live on the Tasman Peninsula near Eaglehawk Neck, where Lucy is recovering from major surgery. As she tries to navigate her new body through the world, she develops a deep fascination with the local octopuses, and in doing so finds herself drawn towards the friendship of an old woman and her son. As the story unfolds, the octopuses come to shape Lucy’s body and her sense of self in ways even she can’t quite understand.

The Octopus and I is a stunning debut novel that explores the wild, beating heart at the intersection of human and animal, love and loss, fear and hope.

~*~

The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle is a debt novel, moving between the human perspective – Lucy, told in first person at times, and also in third person, but also the animal perspective, some of which appear in third person and it felt like some were in third person. Each chapter is unnumbered and untitled, but easily delineated with clear places for readers to stop where they need to. Set in coastal Tasmania, there is an ebb and flow of the sea and the environment, the clashes of man and beast, and ideological clashes that on the surface, are said to be different by those who hold the beliefs,  yet if you dig a little deeper, there are similarities that allow for each side as it were to somewhat converge at some point, even though they believe that they are not the same.

AWW2020

This is a strange yet lyrical book, and weaves in and out of nature and the human world, and the human world’s relationship with nature, seen through Lucy’s obsession with the octopus she saves one night, and her decision to immortalise it in a tattoo, and to find out everything she can about them, fuelling her fascination with the creatures.

Lucy’s journey is seen through the ideology of breasts and body image – and the way some people define a woman by her breasts. Lucy’s breast implants following surgery for breast cancer attract a lot of unwanted attention. So when an accident forces her to re-evaluate how she sees her body, Lucy’s obsession and fascination with the local wildlife, and in particular, the octopus becomes clear – a fascination that leads her to save them when she sees one in danger, and feel more at ease in the ocean than she does on land at times.

I wondered if the octopus, specifically the female octopus and her life cycle, was a metaphor for Lucy and her breast cancer, and how she was trying to understand her identity without her breasts. If so, it was done in a way that wasn’t overtly obvious, so that the reader has to dig for it like a treasure hunt, which is why I am glad I read to the end of the book and uncovered Lucy’s journey of body image, and her relationship to Jem, to Harry and to Flo, but also her relationship to the natural landscape and the animals of Tasmania. Those perspectives are dotted throughout, and present the reader with a different, yet well-rounded idea of how human and animal engage with the earth, even if, albeit, it does feel like a shock when you’ve been reading Lucy’s story for so long, and the seal or another sea creature appears. Though it doesn’t take along to readjust, as Erin has clearly signposted where each part begins and how each perspective begins for the reader to interact effectively.

The things that human and animal have in common that are present in the novel, and that effectively link each different perspective include love, loss, hope, and fear – feelings present in each character within this novel manifesting themselves in different ways.

It is to me, an experiment in how to interact with the world around you and the unknowns in life that come along when we least expect them to. It is a book that is equal parts strange, moving and intriguing, that knows when to hold back, and when to reveal secrets and plot points, and allows the reader to almost swim through the words. It has a clear focus on the connection of human and animal to nature, and what this can mean for different people.

It is a book that needs time spent with it – to fully understand and appreciate what is happening, so that the reader can immerse themselves in the world Lucy finds herself in. At times it felt a little more conceptual, but this worked for the novel, and it will work for those who enjoy something a little out of the ordinary, that allows the reader to explore a sense of self in a very different way.

 

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Grahame Spence

elephant whisperer.jpgTitle: The Elephant Whisperer

Author: Lawrence Anthony with Grahame Spence

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st July 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of rogue elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula, his common-sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn’t take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape…

As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, this is a delightful book that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Lawrence Anthony is a highly-respected conservationist and co-founder of The Earth Organization. His previous title, Babylon’s Ark, about his involvement in saving the animals in Baghdad Zoo, is being made into a major film. Graham Spence is a freelance journalist and author.

~*~

In the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) region of South Africa, there are many game reserves that host smaller, private game lodges that are dedicated to the protection and conservation of African animals such as elephants and rhinos, hunted for their horns. Thula Thula, the reserve and lodge where Lawrence Anthony lived and worked up until his death several years ago was one such park. When Anthony and his partner, Francoise arrived at Thula Thula, they were soon asked to take a rampaging herd of elephants from another game park before they had to be culled. Lawrence took these elephants in, and spent years building up trust, to a point where they knew him and his family, and where they would visit him to show off new additions, and greet him as he arrived home from overseas.  Lawrence’s experiences with the elephants always amaze him and leave him, and those he works and lives with in awe of these majestic creatures.

Written in 2012 about the previous ten years or so, The Elephant Whisperer shows the beauty of elephants, and what they can teach us, and the amazing side to them that so many don’t get to see. The elephants are central to the book and Lawrence’s experiences with poachers, staff, snakes and family, and their comforting presence at times of distress and highly emotional times illustrates the special relationship Lawrence had with the herd and what he observed in these creatures.

Filled with frustrating, triumphant and heartbreaking moments, Lawrence Anthony’s personality and sense of self and justice shines through and the story is engaging and engrossing – from his battle to get the elephants to Thula Thula, to his negotiations with the Zulu tribes and desire to communicate across cultures and respect each human and animal he works with, to his battle with the poachers in the early part of the book, there is a passion that ensures his love of elephants and legacy lives in through his words and work at Thula Thula.