Pajtim Statovci’s My Cat Yugoslavia is a strange, haunting story about identity, desire, and a young man called Bekim who, one night, meets a very charming and manipulative talking cat in a gay bar. It’s an exquisite debut, and to celebrate its release, we take a look at some other talking animals that have graced our pages over the years.
1. Lewis Carroll’s The Cheshire Cat
Of all the strange creatures that dwell in Wonderland, it’s the Cheshire cat who has become most enmeshed in popular culture. With his wide, mischievous grin, disappearing act and astute philosophical conversation, he’s one of the most interesting (and frustrating) of all the weird and wonderful characters Alice encounters down the rabbit hole.
2. A.A. Milne’s Eeyore
How could you not warm to Eeyore’s doleful sarcasm and perpetually sorrowful frown? Winnie the Pooh may be delightful and Tigger full of energy, but Eeyore’s doom and gloom is so extravagant that you can’t help but enjoy it (however Schadenfreude-ish that sounds).
3. George Orwell’s Snowball
Inspired by Old Major’s vision for equality amongst all animals at Manor Farm, his pigs Snowball and Napoleon spearhead a revolution after his death. Eloquent, intelligent and passionate, Snowball vies for leadership against Napoleon, but his idealism is no match for Napoleon’s military tactics and brute force, and he is eventually ousted by Napoleon’s loyal, vicious dogs. In Orwell’s allegory of communism, Snowball is the Trotsky to Napoleon’s Stalin; his vision, “All animals were created equal” gains the addendum “but some are more equal than others” and his name is smeared as ‘Animal Farm’ steadily becomes Manor Farm once again under Napoleon’s rule.
4. Phillip Pullan’s Daemons
In Phillip Pullman’s alternate universe, our inner selves have physical manifestations in the form of animals. Although not fully corporeal, as they simply disintegrate in Dust when their human dies, they move about and communicate just as humans do. They change form as their person grows, finally settling as one animal that best reflects the person’s soul. Lyra’s daemon, Pantamailon, is her closest companion, cautious advisor and best friend, who changes form many times – from a dragon in battle to a mouse when scared – before finally settling as a pine marten: mischievous, brave and clever, just like Lyra herself.
5. Roald Dahl’s Mr Fox
What list of this kind would be complete without the fantastic Mr Fox? Cool, clever and crafty, he manages to terrorise the three farmers to distraction and provide a veritable feast for his family and fellow underground animals, all whilst barely breaking a sweat. A good guy to have around in a crisis.