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Excerpt from Night of the Animals by Bill Broun, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Night of the Animals

by Bill Broun

Night of the Animals by Bill Broun X
Night of the Animals by Bill Broun
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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"Oh, Dryst," Cuthbert said aloud, reaching with his hand toward the fence. He clutched a shock of tender, faintly serrated hazel leaves, pulling himself forward. "Dryst!"

Finding the boy wasn't just the search of a lifetime for Cuthbert—it was a command, a direction, a holy destination.

That his lost brother would have been aged ninety-two, were he alive, was entirely meaningless to old Cuddy. Drystan was, in his mind, always a child.

CUTHBERT TURNED AROUND and leaned against the crosshatching branches he'd just plunged through. He found that they supported his full weight—all twenty-two stones of a man wattled together with crylon mesh and half-poisonous nickel rods. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It had rained the night before, and a few drips of water coursed slowly across his cheeks and down his neck.

"Gagoga," he gasped, breathlessly, repeating the most mysterious of the various phrases he had been sent a few months before by the zoo animals. "Ga! Go! Ga!" he cried, sounding as raw animal as he knew. How he knew this watery, gurgling phrase, what it meant, where it came from, why he ought to repeat it—none of those things were quite clear. But he knew he must say it.

Gagoga.

The zoo wasn't the only source of animal voices, though it was the strongest. He heard them all over the place these days. England roared and screeched with them, especially those of cats. He could hardly make it down the street lately without a moggy telling him that moths in the moonlight were enchanting, or saying that those blue mallow flowers along garden walls in Holloway smelled of petrol, or asking him to touch me here, no touch me there, no here yes there here between the ears there here there—workaday cat-thoughts, really.

Britain's dogs had much to say, too: a Seeing Eye Labrador on a bosonicabus*** had told Cuthbert that invisible grid lines crisscrossed every pavement, street, house, New Tube, or bosonicabus entrance in the city. From its point of view, London was impeccably Pythagorean and soothing. A wirehaired fox terrier, on the other hand, who yelped behind a wooden gate that Cuthbert often passed in Islington, would shrill with impish pep, Happyfury! Happyfury! Happyfury! Cuthbert did not know what it meant—but he believed it.

And on and on they went, voices from across Albion. The black-eyed ponies of the New Forest wanted larger pastures. The fat gray seals off the Isles of Scilly wanted cleaner breeding waters. That autumn, down from the craggy Black Carls of Beinn Eighe came the angry voices of red deer stags in rut, barking for sex. Then there were Britain's forty million head of sheep, and each head, Cuthbert suspected, had a gentle idea of its own.

All these animals didn't talk to him exactly, not like Virginia Woolf's Greek-uttering birds or Kipling's noble, contraction-averse wolves. Words did not pass through snout, proboscis, or mandible. But nonetheless, the animals asserted themselves toward him. They sent messages, some limpid, some inscrutable, but all appreciable. Some were preverbal, others expressive and exact. Most were enigmatic—but they all nipped at him, if only just a little.

They spoke so tersely, too. Often the zoo animals imparted just one or two expressive words. "Saliq," the sand cats would whisper. "Murkurk," rumbled the hippos. "Progress and dominion," the imperial—and often verbose—lions would intone, and so on. On more and more days, these occult reductions popped into perfect sense within Cuthbert. For example, murkurk, as Cuthbert grasped it, clearly meant "let the hippopotamus make its way to the Thames." He'd think: how much clearer could it be?


HE LIFTED UP a tangle of the thin, elastic branches in the hedge with his arm, spun around, and tried backing in. He needed to make sure no one was watching. He felt he could not be more prepared for today, considering his circumstances. He'd put on his black weather-buffer and green trousers for cover. He wore the hood on the buffer, and cinched it tight around his swarthy face. He looked like a big, dark Teletubby from the old TV program—a new one, Boozey, with a smashed television screen on its tummy and two purple Flot bottle-tops for eyes.

From Night of the Animals by Bill Broun. 2016 by William Douglas Broun. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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