Animal People – Charlotte Wood

I haven’t read any of Charlotte Wood’s work and this is a good starting point, quite short and easy to read.

Here is the description from Charlotte Wood’s website …

A sharply observed 24-hour urban love story that follows Stephen Connolly – a character from Wood’s bestselling novel The Children – through one of the worst days of his life.

On this stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, but without a clue how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and they may be his downfall.

As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (and an excruciating workplace team-building event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong.

As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself.

Hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling.

The novel invites readers to question the way we think about animals – what makes an ‘animal person’? What value do we, as a society, place on the lives of creatures? Do we brutalise our pets even as we love them? What’s wrong with anthropomorphism anyway? Filled with challenging ideas and shocks of recognition and revelation, Animal People shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.


First, I haven’t read The Children and it doesn’t matter – this book stands on its own. I enjoyed it, although I have to say the main character, Stephen, is quite unattractive. This is a simple story full of ordinary events – a team building exercise (does anyone like these activities), a birthday party where the birthday girl completely loses the plot (the description of high spirits slipping into hysteria is spot on) – but ordinary events can be a catalyst for change. Will things change once Stephen’s boss (and friend) at the zoo moves onto a management position? What happens to Fiona and Stephen?

The setting is fabulous – I can feel the heat beating down and that terrible sweaty, soggy feeling when you have done something physical on a hot day.

If I ever make it through my current to be read pile, I will get hold of The Children.

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One Response to Animal People – Charlotte Wood

  1. I hope you’ll give Ida’s Story a read. The story is based on a real life drama played out under some very trying circumstances. Here’s a brief summary.
    by S.A. Segal – Available Wherever Fine Books Are Sold


    Living her life between 1880 and 1950, Ida’s spirit and drive is her only salvation from being swallowed up in the quagmire of struggle which surrounds her. Born in poverty in the bowls of Boston’s ethnic ghettos Ida enters a world devoid of love, filled with the raw challenges of a nation not adequately administered by laws and the protections of human rights. Never allowed the privilege of a formal education Ida falls victim to con-artists following the tragic death of her husband. The year is 1915 and Kansas City is little more than an open and wild western city lacking the rudiments of social structure which should have protected her.

    She is railroaded into an insane asylum, her four young boys torn from her and shunted off to a brutal orphanage as the criminals steal her home and all of her positions. In spite of the hopelessness of the asylum she vows to escape, find her children and rebuild her life. Within the sterile environment of the asylum she teaches herself to read. Only through the unrelenting efforts of a friend with connections to Kansas City’s Pendergast political machine does Ida obtain release from the iron clad entrapment of the asylum.

    She re-emerges into a world where her children are scattered. Two of her boys have escaped the orphanage and remain estranged for years while being raised in a strange and secret location just blocks from where Ida raises her two youngest sons. Her youngest son falls victim to criminal elements supplying bootleg booze to massive crime enterprises of Al Capone – a failing which haunts him long after he tries to straighten out his life.

    Throughout her life Ida socializes within the highest levels of Kansas City’s Pendergast political machine with its gambling, bootlegging, open support of prostitution and political bribery. She juggles her common past with an uncanny ability to interact with the city’s most sophisticated socialites. She raises her sons with undying devotion only to lose her the struggle for her youngest to forces beyond her control and through a twisted event which condemns her youngest son to death she is reunited with her two estranged boys.

    Born in poverty, uneducated, swept up in the winds of uncontrolled social change, Ida prevails. During her life she keeps the childhood secret of a witnessed murder, educates herself, provides for her family, and wines and dines with the famous, the infamous, and Hollywood’s elite stars. Through it all Ida maintains her dignity and epitomizes the strength and magnificence of the human spirit.

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