Pets! Dead Or Alive!

Pets! Dead Or Alive!

Marina Lewycka’s Various Pets Alive and Dead delves into the development of a slightly dysfunctional family who have taken very different lives after growing up in a left-wing liberal commune. Set in 2008, the novel moves between Doncaster and London, exploring both the present lives of the characters, and also their memories of growing up in the commune. The narrative reveals that the mother is the only person in the family that still believes in the radical politics and lentil-eating philosophy of their past. The rest of the family now work in corporate finance and are sex-crazed, rejecting the ideals she had tried to instil in them. And as the title suggests, there are various pets; some living, some dead.

The book is focalised through three different characters: Serge, whom the family believe to be doing a PhD in Mathematics at Cambrige when in actuality he is selling his soul to the corporate world; Clara, a slightly neurotic primary school teacher who has the worst luck with keeping pets alive; and Doro, the hippy mother of Serge and Clara, who still tries to live a life of free love and protest. The other characters in the novel include Maroushka, a beautiful ditzy girl from Zhytomyr whom Serge wants to sleep with; Oolie-Anna, Serge and Clara’s Down’s Syndrome sibling; and Marcus, Doro’s soon-to-be husband whose first person narrative is expressed in the epilogue. I found the characterisation effective in highlighting how each family member had chosen different life paths. Doro was my least favourite of the characters because her intrusive, nagging and opinionated personality got tiresome and added little to the effect of the story. However, I loved Serge, who spent most of his time piecing together poetry about Maroushka, and fantasising about sleeping with her. He tries so hard that it’s slightly cringe – like sniffing shoes cringe.

The chapters are nice and short, so I found the novel to be an easy and quick read. There were many points where I actually laughed out loud at some situations the characters found themselves in and the memories they recalled. Lewycka paints fantastically funny childhood memories for both Serge and Clara. My favourite belongs to Serge, in which he, unable to comprehend the speed at which rabbits procreate, believes that the rabbits that keep coming back after he has buried them must be zombie rabbits: “It seemed like the rabbits which kept on appearing so inexorably were in fact zombie-bunnies linked in some supernatural way with those little hairless corpses they’d buried.” The “zombie” rabbits that seem to take over the commune end up being donated, unbeknownst to the vegetarian animal-loving members of the commune, to Randy’s Reptiles.

Lewycha’s novel is an easily accessible read that everyone can relate to in one way or another – be it through pining for a girl way out of your league or eulogising at pet funerals. If you want to realise you aren’t that weird after all, definitely give it a read!

Bradley Watson
This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2012.
Posted 5:04pm Sunday 22nd April 2012 by Bradley Watson.