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Pigtopia by Kitty Fitzgerald

Bacon butties will be off the menu

Given the author's poetic credentials, Pigtopia's lyrical prose style comes as no surprise. An endearing childlike narrative draws you inside the world of the freakish Jack Plum and his Pig Palace. Deformed from birth and shunned by the local community, Jack is a man-boy who, although in his thirties, retains a touching, childlike innocence. Locked away with his bitter, drunken mother who constantly coughs up blood, he builds an alternative universe peopled by pigs and decorated like a paradise valley his long-absent Father described to him called Eden. Despite this solace, Jack continues to long for the warmth of human company until he finds it in the unlikely form of a troubled teenager with no breasts, a bitchy best friend and a passion for exotic plants.

The unlikely alliance between Jack and his chosen "humangirlpig", Holly Lock, is founded on a mutual sense of alienation. Holly feels mature for her age but her childlike body belies a piercing intelligence. Jack's untrained mind senses a connection between them: "I watch her without on the road, herding with the other kiddypigs, stomping round, screeching louder than tribes of boars, and Holly Lock with them but not with them. Some thing always held back, not shared, not used up, hid within her."

Fitzgerald employs a dual narrative to depict the growing bond between Holly and Jack, diverting any suggestion of a sexual undertone to their relationship. Holly's anger at the intrusion of her mother's new boyfriend drives her further into Jack's pig world and away from her angst-ridden friends. The key to this elegantly crafted tale lies in Fitzgerald's success in making the pigs seem more human than humans, to the point where you feel, like Holly, that you would rather spend your time with Freya, Nodger and the rest of the tribe than deal with the narrow-mindedness and pressures of the outside world.

Pigtopia is in many ways a coded exploration of innocence. At the start, Jack and Holly share a refreshing naivety that is tragically eroded by a series of strange and grotesque events. Jack lives untouched by the rules and obsessions of modern life. When his odious mother's death brings the outside world to his door, his fragile existence crumbles and Holly is attacked for her association with the "Freak". Jack's desire to protect Holly and his beloved tribe lead him to a noble act of self-sacrifice that became inevitable the moment he opened up his internal world to others.

This novel is a linguistic tour de force which grips, repels and puts bacon butties firmly off the menu. Kitty Fitzgerald might be traversing well-trod farmyard territory, but each chapter sparkles with the eccentricity of her imagination; she has created a combination of moral fable and domestic drama which is a pleasure to devour.

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