Ecological crisis is a dour subject. It takes a lot to make a novel with this as one of its main themes enjoyable. Still less, ‘fun’. But Hastings-based Amanda Nicol achieves this in Dead Pets Society. Even direct personal grief is handled with humour, and it is such grief that leads the protagonist to conceive of the Society of the title.
Our narrator talks of her detachment from nature, and of her connectedness with nature as sublimated into her pet. When he dies, and another lady’s dies very soon after, the idea of a club for those who have experienced this loss comes to her. Where this takes her forms one strand of our narrative.
Wider issues about nature and humanity are already in the narrator’s mind, she is working on a manuscript, ‘Offsetters’, that deals with eco-activism. Nicol interweaves extracts from this novel–(in progress)-within-a-novel throughout the text, the effect of which is to keep parallel sets of ideas in motion and the reader’s interest piqued. Her novel features a shady group of activists, one set of which, discovered via an email link, takes the rhetorically extreme position that ‘Our entire civilisation is one big suicide cult. The symptoms surround us’.
‘Offsetters’ channels the ideas of contemporary ‘green’ writers such as Richard Heinberg (whose youtube channel is great, and whose talk on the extras disc of ‘The Age of Stupid’ is an absolute must, delivering literally everything you need to know about the crises unfolding around us), and Donna Haraway (‘The Companion Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness’), as well as giving us insights into groups such as Earth First!, Deep Green Resistance, or the Dark Mountain Project. And, of course, fossil fuel issues are at the heart of the narrative as the two strands edge together.
How do you halt habitat loss? Renew our connection with nature? Save the planet? Is reducing energy use (‘Powerdown’) enough? Can techno-fixes save us? After all, science is perforce only able to create solutions within the bounds of current knowledge and the objectively possible, as opposed to being the ‘magic wand’ that those prone to ‘scientism’ have imagined it to be since time immemorial. For example, ‘free energy’ from ‘fusion’ has been ‘fifty years away’ for a century, and is so inefficient that ‘useable cheap’ ‘free energy’ is still ‘sixty years away’. I predict we cannot afford to kick back on a ‘business as usual’, all-will-be-right, ‘whatever will be will be’ jag any longer – in fact, the clock probably struck midnight the moment the Rio convention became the biggest greenwash in history, long before the Trump-ian assault on Paris…
Stylistically Nicol’s novel channels writers like John Dos Passos and John Brunner in it’s ‘multi-media’ approach, with sections in different fonts, in caps, or indented, and in its use of cultural referents, poetry, lists, epigrams, internet protocols etc. In terms of content, the main narrative keeps a chatty, almost ‘chick-lit’, vibe through trials and tribulations that are rarely served up so palatably in other work. This book is, ‘despite’ the subject matter, definitely a fun read.
I recommend Dead Pets Society. Nicol also has two other novels out, Badric’s Island’ and ‘House of Bread’. All three feature wonderful cover art from Roland Jarvis and have excellently produced tactile jackets designed to work as a set. All three are on sale a Bookbuster.