Likely Stories : The Council of Animals, by Nick McDonell

Sep 16, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Nick McDonell is the author of Twelve, The Third Brother, and An Expensive Education, as well as a number of books on political theory and reportage.  His latest book is, The Council of Animals. 


According to the jacket, after “The Calamity, the animals thought the humans had managed to do themselves in.  But it turns out, a few humans left cowering in makeshift villages.  So, the animals have selected ambassadors to vote on whether to help the last human stragglers…or to eat them.  A debate on this topic began.

“The animals decided to vote.  They choose a location more convenient to some than others. // It was a vast superyacht, grounded upon a cliff, high above the sea.  A bulldog arrived first.  He was grizzled, mostly grey, and arthritic.  His undershot jaw, however, retained much of its fierce, stubborn strength.  He was a determined-looking sort of dog” (2). 

Next came a horse, trotting—idiotically, thought the dog—in zigzags, toward the yacht.  His almond coat was glossy, and his mane was streaked from sunshine.  A brilliant white stripe ran down his muzzle.  He slowed to a panting rest.  Catching his breath, he nosed for something to eat in the weeds beside the dog. // ‘Good afternoon,’ said the dog.  ‘Where are the sugar cubes?’ // ‘Sugar cubes?’ // ‘Sometimes they have sugar cubes.’ // None of them are here.’ // ‘Carrots?’ // Dog and horse regarded each other for a long moment. // ‘No carrots either’ (2).  A bear approached.  “The cat told me to tell you she’ll be late” repeated the horse. // “No surprises there, eh?’ (3). 

Another member arrived: the crow and a yellow-eyed baboon: ‘All of us are here.  Anyone who is not here is not us.  That’s we.  So, we can begin.’ // ‘But if the others aren’t here,’ said the bear, slowly focusing on one bit of the problem, ‘how will they decide how to vote?’ // ‘They vote as we tell them,’ said the baboon.  ‘Animals like that’ (5).

Chapter three begins, “‘Now I am an old dog, but I know men.’ // The dog had been thinking about how to begin his speech for several days.  ‘I have seen the best and the worst of men.  War brings both.’ // The cat rolled her eyes. // ‘Before The Calamity, I traveled with a human general.  The men were at war, which is the best thing men do, because war requires constant training.  Training!  There’s nothing better.  Imagine a thousand sticks, thrown over and over.  Imagine a million sticks.  Imagine searching for hidden smells, and when you find them—rewards!  That’s war” (16).

This allegorical novel, The Council of Animals by Nick McDonell, is a pleasing way to build your own private fantasy world.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!