Title: All the Little Animals
Author: Walker Hamilton
Publication date: September 17, 2012
Publisher: Freight Books
Length: 144 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult / Young Adult
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Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository
A beguiling, unsettling and ultimately moving modern fable set on the byways of rural Cornwall; a story about running away, the search for acceptance and burying road-kill.
Bobby is a 31 year old man with the mind of a small, frightened boy. He has run away from his privileged but abusive London home to rural Cornwall. Through an accident of fate he meets Mr Summers, a man with a terrible secret who, in atonement, has dedicated his life to burying all the little animals. Together they embark on a bizarre mission, and a savage act of revenge.
With only 144 pages All the Little Animals is a relatively short read which can easily be read in just a few hours, and one which I, once I picked it up, didn’t want to put down. The book doesn’t have a complicated plot and is most definitely not a white-knuckle ride that will keep you guessing till the end but it doesn’t have to be one in order to be memorable. The appeal of this novel lies not with its complexity but with all those emotions that are packed into such a tiny book.
Bobby is a 31-year-old man who, as a result of being involved in a car accident in his childhood, is trapped in the body and mind of a young boy. Bobby lives with his mother, the owner of a local department store, until she marries a man Bobby calls ‘The Fat’ and her health begins to deteriorate due to an abusive marriage and eventually dies. He, then, is forced to live with ‘The Fat’ and put up with verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis. When ‘The Fat’ kills his last remaining friend – a mouse called Peter – he decides to leave. Somewhere along the way he meets Mr Summers, a mysterious – and as it turns out rather peculiar – little man. According to Mr Summers, who detests everything about the world we live in today, his job is to find and bury all the little animals that were run over by cars or lorries. He says “people can bury each other but the animals have to be helped. Not just rabbits and rats, but all the little animals. Other men kill them and I bury them”. Soon this eccentric man becomes Bobby’s teacher, his guardian and only friend and the one who eventually helps him overcome his traumas, let go of his fears and become free.
As I said, the plot might not be a complicated one but Bobby’s personality and his friendship with Mr Summers definitely makes up for it. The simplicity and childlike innocence that characterises Bobby’s narrative is both charming and heart-warming. His relationship with the old man and the way he talks about him and their adventures brought tears to my eyes quite a few times and is something I’m not going to forget anytime soon.
I would add, though, that even though it might be considered as young adult fiction based on its plot and its language, I would rather classify it as an adult-oriented book. There is both verbal and physical violence in the story – and especially the last two or three chapters – which might not be suitable for the younger generation, no matter how much of an easy read it may seem. Hamilton also touches upon certain subjects which might be more easily understandable or digestible for and appreciated by adults than by younger people, and it might not have the same effect on a younger reader.
All the Little Animals is a short but touching story of friendship, hope and starting over and which fans of contemporary fiction are guaranteed to enjoy.
“I can remember the tune, not the name of it, because I’m no good at names, but the sound of it. I’ll never forget the sound of that tune. I can’t remember the driver-man’s face though, and that’s funny really, because I watched him as he died and yet his face is just nothing under black hair in my memory. Poor driver-man.”