“Various Pets Alive & Dead” by Marina Lewycka (2012)
I often encourage people to read Lewycka’s first novel, “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”, which is one of my 5 all-time favourite books (at the moment) (with “Cloudstreet”; “Water for Elephants”; “The Orchard”; and everything by Markus Zuzak) (yes, I know that’s cheating) (no, there aren’t any classics, so shoot me). There’s a common theme, actually. Each of my favourite books is character-driven and employs a simple narrative regarding simple folk. It is the absurdity and extraordinariness of ordinariness that delights me in a novel. And a descriptiveness that leans towards sparse rather than flowery, I suppose.
Lewycka creates characters that take a little warming to, a little getting to know. They are always flawed and their experiences are always a bit complicated. This is her fourth novel. I thoroughly enjoyed her second, “Two Caravans”. I found her third, “We Are All Made of Glue”, hard to take. Too much sorrow, I think. This novel is like the other 3 in that it introduces a collection of complicated characters, all of whom have a range of issues to work through. They muddle on and somehow manage to find some resolutions, mostly, by the end of the novel.
This book, beyond the characters, is an examination of 60s, free-love, dope-smoking, bra-burning, carefree, left-wing, commune-living ideals and noughties greed, individualism, and the almighty dollar. Set in the months leading up to the GFC, I probably understand the absurdity of the world’s finances better for having read this book than I did reading newspapers at the time or since. Although, if I’m honest, some of the mathematical stuff went straight over my head. Serge is the math whizz, but it is Clara I liked the most, perhaps because, like me, she is a teacher with good intentions.
Should you read this? Sure. But if you’re choosing to discover Lewycka’s writing, read “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” or “Two Caravans” instead.