Bully off

Susannah Clapp

  • Dunedin by Shena Mackay
    Heinemann, 341 pp, £14.99, July 1992, ISBN 0 434 44048 5

Shena Mackay has written the first antispeciesist novel. Dunedin does not feature animals in any large anthropomorphic or allegorical capacity, and there is hardly a pet in sight. But what happens at the edges of Mackay’s novels, what is taken for granted, has always been vital in establishing their distinctive flavour and their point. Dunedin is about London, poverty and pinched lives, but the background imagery is consistently, though often quietly animal. This imagery helps to make Dunedin as original as any of Mackay’s earlier books. It was one of the few things not praised in the unexpected eulogy bestowed upon Mackay by the pit-bull of the literary pages Julie Burchill when, in Elle magazine, she dismissed other contemporary women authors as ‘a mannered, marginal bunch of second bananas’, and went on to proclaim Mackay as ‘the best writer in the world today’.

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[*] Virago publish Old Crow, Duxt falls on Eugene Schlumhurger/Toddler on the Run and Music Upstairs. Abacus publish Babies in Rhinestones, A Bowl of Cherries and Dreams of Dead Women’s Handbags.