JONATHAN CAPE, £16.99. Order for £15.99 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897
Giraffe, by JM Ledgard
Communism gets it in the neck from a tall story about giraffes
Thursday 27 April 2006
On one level, JM Ledgard's debut novel is the story of a herd of giraffes taken from Africa to a zoo in 1970s Czechoslovakia. On another level - and we are frequently reminded that giraffes experience the world at a level different from our own - it is no less than the story of Czechoslovakia, a country and people caught in "the communist moment".
The giraffes are accompanied on part of their journey from Hamburg by Emil. His day job involves the study of blood flow in vertical creatures, but he occupies a dual role, sent along as an agent for the shipping company.
Emil becomes aware of the giraffes' otherness. Ledgard's descriptions of the animals emphasise this at the same time as subtly associating them with the trappings of totalitarianism: "The height of a giraffe makes watchtowers of them." The insistence on "the communist moment" is explained when Emil spends his first night in West Germany. He listens to pop songs and regards them as belonging to "now". In the communist moment, Emil writes, "there is no now, and it is possible to live without remembering the year, and to have no sense of time passing".
We live in the copywriters' moment. A jacket blurb these days tends to reveal two-thirds of any plot. In Giraffe, the entire narrative is encapsulated on the inside flap. That Ledgard still manages a gradual build-up of tension is evidence of his storyteller's skill. He does it by installing a number of different narrators and having them pass the storytelling baton, starting with Snehurka, the giraffes' protagonist, and moving on to Emil and others including Jiri, a sharpshooter.
Emil tells us that the optic nerve of a giraffe is as thick as an index finger, its eye the biggest in the animal kingdom. We infer that this ability to see further than any other creature leads to the giraffes' fate in the communist moment.
Amina, factory worker and sleepwalker, loves the animals because they awaken her. She would like them to perform the same function for her countrymen, "a nation asleep".
The inevitable bloody showdown, when all the narrators come together and retell the mayhem, is a tour de force, a fitting climax to a superb novel that is filled with compassion, yet never sentimental. I'm going to stick my neck out and call it a masterpiece.
Nicholas Royle's short-story collection 'Mortality' will be published in October by Serpent's Tail
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Unseen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chapter deemed 'too subversive' released
- 2 Ebola virus: It's ripped through towns – now the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus is heading for Africa's teeming cities
- 3 Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Unseen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chapter deemed 'too subversive' released
Doctor Who, Into the Dalek, review: Classic sci-fi adventure has blockbuster spectacle
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
The Leftovers, TV review: Prepare to be bewildered by the latest mystery from the creator of Lost
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
- < Previous
- Next >