I haven’t done a book review for a while, but inspired by quite a few awesome readathons about, I thought I should do something. Here’s my take on Animal Magic: A Brother’s Story by Andrew Barrow, which I just finished. Feel free to share your thoughts about this, or check out my reviews on The Things they Carried or The Secret History.
As someone who’s a huge fan of both fact and fiction I’ve always been fascinated by books that can bring out the best of both genres. Few attempt it and even can fewer achieve it. Some fail even with one.
Starting with a passage from an unpublished manuscript and its context, you have barely turned the first page before you have already been dragged into the story and the writer’s reason for telling it. Jonathan Barrow, with a successful advertising career ahead of him and days away from getting married, was killed along with his fiancée in a car crash. He was 22.
In the short extract, taken from his outrageously imaginative story The Queue, Barrow had predicted his death in almost unnerving detail.
And it with this that his older brother Andrew, and the one always closest to him, starts it all off.
Because as much as this is the story of the fascinating Jonathan, and his rather remarkable novel, it is also the complex story of two brothers. A relationship confirmed to us as complicated within the first chapter, when the “soon to be famous” Quentin Crisp describes Jonathan as “extremely odd” and “the complete opposite” of Andrew. Andrew gives countless examples of how irreverent Jonathan was, including befriending a homeless drunk and an eccentric former teacher.
While Andrew Barrow is superb at interlinking his brother’s story with their early background and the context of 60s England, where the book truly excels in in charting their subtle rivalry as early adults. While Andrew gains initial success in the showbiz industry and threatens to leave his younger brother behind, soon Jonathan starts to thrive socially and professionally. We read Andrew struggle to deal with his array of emotions and are left to wonder what Jonathan would have achieved had he lived longer.
Sad, poignant, anecdotal and at times funny, Animal Magic: A Brother’s Story is a rare and weirdly wonderful kind of book.