NOMINEE 2011 - Toronto Book Awards
When Edal Jones wakes to the sound of a mouse on the hardwood floor
by her bed, she doesn't quite know why she says softly, "Hello."
But then, a lot of things have stopped making sense for Edal. As a
federal wildlife officer at Pearson International Airport she's
seen everything from goliath bird-eating tarantulas crammed in a
briefcase to a California condor "folded up like a sports coat." So
why has the sight of juvenile star tortoises crushed and broken in
a grandmother's luggage suddenly made it impossible for her to go
That same morning, riding her bike in the empty downtown core, Edal
spots a young homeless girl rescuing birds that have knocked
themselves out against the glassy office towers. Edal tracks Lily
through the city to Howell Auto Wreckers in Toronto's east end and
discovers a new world where the links between people and animals
can heal rather than hurt.
Handsome wrecking-yard owner Guy Howell employs Stephen, a young
soldier on medical release whose duties include veterinary as well
as mechanical tasks. Guy is rehabilitating a weakened red-tailed
hawk, while Stephen raises a litter of orphaned raccoons, and Lily
comes and goes with her birds and her constant companion, a massive
black dog named Billy. All the characters in Fauna
are animal lovers in search of something that human
cruelty has denied them. As the narrative develops, we learn more
about each of them, until they begin to feel like our intimate
friends. The circle expands to include a young veterinary
technician mourning her lover's death, then expands again with
dramatic consequences for all concerned
when a disturbed young man starts taking out his
anger and sorrow on the coyotes that live in the Don Valley.
Gently, meditatively, this unique novel delivers a profoundly
immersive experience. A new kind of urban writing,
Fauna encourages us to look again at the
margins and undercurrents of the cities we inhabit, and consider
how we treat the other beings who call those spaces home. What's
more, the persuasive beauty of York's writing, the tenderness of
her approach to her characters, and the connections she draws
between them invite us to look inward and re-evaluate both the
human and the animal within.
Alissa York's fiction has won the Journey Prize and the Bronwen
Wallace Award, and has been published in Canada, the U.S., France,
Holland and Italy. Her most recent novel, Effigy,
was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and longlisted for
the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. York has lived all
over Canada and now makes her home in Toronto with her husband,
artist Clive Holden.
1. What is troubling Edal? How does Guy help her?
2. Has Fauna changed your view of
animals and city life? Does it reflect anything in your own
3. How is the book structured, and why? Why does it cut between
past and present and different points of view?
4. From story time at Howell Auto Wreckers to
Letty's house, Fauna is (sometimes literally) full
of books. What do these other books add to the novel?
5. If you've read Alissa York's previous novels, such as
Effigy or Mercy, how do
you compare Fauna with them?
6. How are the characters in Fauna
linked? Consider the small coincidental connections
between them (such as moments when one sees another from a subway
train window) to the more profound emotional bonds.
7. How does the unusual family in Fauna provide
the sanctuary that traditional families often cannot? What's the
importance of the "modern family" in this book?
8. What role does death play in the novel? What do the
characters say about death and how do they respond to it? You might
consider how Fauna treats the deaths of
animals and people differently (or similarly), and the importance
of mourning and burial in the novel.
9. What is the significance of the title,
Fauna? Can you think of any alternative titles you
might give this book?
10. Why did Alissa York include the sections in the novel
written from the perspective of a raccoon or bat? Are they
effective? What do they add to the overall narrative?
11. The novel features a large, well-rounded cast of characters.
Who affects you most deeply, and why? Who do you find most
interesting? Are there any characters you don't connect with, and
if so why do you think that is?
12. What does love accomplish in Fauna? How do
people demonstrate love? Do animals experience love?
13. How does York create sympathy for her characters? You might
focus on the more troubled individuals, such as Darius.
14. In what sense is Toronto's Don Valley a character in the
novel? How do the settings contribute to the story and to your
sense of the characters?
15. What does Lily learn in Fauna?
16. Were you surprised by what happens to Darius at the close of
the novel? How do you explain it?
17. How would you describe Alissa York's writing style in
Fauna? (You may find it helpful to compare
Fauna to her other work, or to that of
other writers.) Would you call it lyrical, pared-down, lush,
hypnotic . . . ? What effect does it have on you?
18. Will you recommend Fauna to your friends?
Why or why not?