A fable for our times, Joni Murphy’s Talking Animals takes place in an all-animal world where creatures rather like us are forced to deal with an all-too-familiar landscape of soul-crushing jobs, polluted oceans, and a creeping sense of doom.
It’s New York City, nowish. Lemurs brew espresso. Birds tend bar. There are bears on Wall Street, and a billionaire racehorse is mayor. Sea creatures are viewed with fear and disgust and there’s chatter about building a wall to keep them out.
Alfonzo is a moody alpaca. His friend Mitchell is a sociable llama. They both work at City Hall, but their true passions are noise music and underground politics. Partly to meet girls, partly because the world might be ending, these lowly bureaucrats embark on an unlikely mission to expose the corrupt system that’s destroying the city from within. Their project takes them from the city’s bowels to its extremities, where they encounter the Sea Equality Revolutionary Front, who are either a group of dangerous radicals or an inspiring liberation movement.
In this novel, at last, nature kvetches and grieves, while talking animals offer us a kind of solace in the guise of dumb jokes. This is mass extinction as told by BoJack Horseman. This is The Fantastic Mr. Fox journeying through Kafka’s Amerika. This is dogs and cats, living together. Talking Animals is an urgent allegory about friendship, art, and the elemental struggle to change one’s life under the low ceiling of capitalism.
Praise for Talking Animals:
“Joni Murphy’s inventive and beautiful allegory depicts a city enmeshed in climate collapse, blinded to the signs of its imminent destruction by petty hatreds and monstrous greed: that is, the world we are living in now. Talking Animals is an Orwellian tale of totalitarianism in action, but the animals on this farm are much cuter, and they make better puns.” —Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick and After Kathy Acker
“The best NYC novel since The Puttermesser Papers, Murphy’s wise and hilarious Talking Animals bobs along the wake of the present and coming flood like some driftwood ark of sibylline genius. Its beasts reveal ourselves: the mercenaries, the easily complicit, the legion of sheep and lemmings (no offense), and the rarely defiant. Read it; after all, the sky is falling.” —Eugene Lim, author of Dear Cyborgs
“Set in a world as cruel and complex as our own, Joni Murphy’s Talking Animals erases the illusory distinction between man and beast. This tale of lonesome hearts, rising seas, and political intrigue is not only engrossing and finely wrought, it carries a message of survival: we’re all in this together, and we need each other.” —Lisa Locascio, author of Open Me
“Absurd and irreverent, Talking Animals is a wild love letter to all bureaucrats, academics, and alpacas of the anthropocene. Joni Murphy, rightful zookeeper-heir to Kafka’s animal kingdom, speaks for us all.” —Patty Yumi Cottrell, author of Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
“The long effort to raise human life above all else comes to a merciful end in Joni Murphy’s Talking Animals. Grief, inequality, the possibility of liberation: Murphy sings a song ‘not kind, just true.’ This is a rare novel, one with the humane gift of humor—and real urgency. And rarest of all, it’s a novel we need.” —Andrew Durbin, author of MacArthur Park
“A thrillingly imaginative zoological fantasia vivid with fierce intelligence, caustic observation, and sly humor. The concrete jungle has never felt so funny, so unexpected, and so wonderfully humane.” —Elan Mastai, author of All Our Wrongs Today
“Come for the cover, which depicts a thoughtful alpaca, and stay for the tale of intrigue, climate change, and metropolitan doom—all in a world without humans. Sounds nice right now!” —Vulture,”29 Books We Can’t Wait to Read This Summer” 2020
Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2020 Book Preview —The Millions
25 Picks from this Fall’s Book Bonanza —Toronto Star
“A 21st-century combination of Animal Farm and Aesop’s Fables . . . Murphy packs a lot of issues—class, climate change immigration, vegetarianism, and more—into a familiar plot about malfeasance. She balances her poetic ruminations and dogmatic lecturing with a goofy relish for puns . . . Weird yet engrossing and hard to forget.” —Kirkus (starred)
“Murphy has great fun animalizing the streets of N.Y.C. and writes beautiful paeans to the sea.” —Publishers Weekly
Interview with Joni Murphy —Full Stop
Joni Murphy’s Playlist for Her Novel Talking Animals —Largehearted Boy
“The book has been billed as “Animal Farm for the Anthropocene,” and indeed, Talking Animals is to disaster capitalism what that classic Orwell novel was to creeping totalitarianism.” —Nitish Pahwa, Slate
“Murphy’s astute perceptions social, political, and emotional; ingenious inventiveness, fluid empathy, and mischievous wit coalesce in an irresistible fable of ringing impact.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist
An Alpaca and a Llama Walk into a Bar: Talking to Joni Murphy, author of Talking Animals —Los Angeles Review of Books
“I wasn’t expecting to be in tears and yet hopeful when I finished this surreal little novel. It’s a quick read, full of clever puns and admirable world-building, but there is an undercurrent of sadness that carries us to the somber endpoint.” —Jan Stinchcomb, Goodreads
“I’m so excited about Talking Animals… It’s an allegory about late-stage neoliberalism that just happens to feature an alpaca as the protagonist, and already it’s searing and gentle, allowing you to peer deeply into something without hurting your eyes.” —Zoe Grams, Create a stir
“Un véritable coup de cœur cet automne pour Talking Animals, un livre dont j’avais absolument besoin en cette saison. J’avais déjà lu et adoré Double Teenage, le premier roman de Joni Murphy, mais je ne me doutais pas de la forme que prendrait ce livre-ci. Irrésistible, drôle, lucide, une magnifique transposition de cette époque-ci, mais dans un monde animal.” —Staff picks 2020 – Catherine, Librairie Drawn and Quarterly
“Murphy’s [novel features] a lovable alpaca bureaucrat who gets tangled up with Sea Equality revolutionaries in a New York entirely populated by animals… [a] slyly funny, endlessly rewarding book about living a daily life in a world you know is deeply wrong.” —Staff picks 2020 – Saelan Twerdy, Librairie Drawn and Quarterly
“This is Animal Farm but better and set now, about how capital renders the city unliveable and neo-liberalism is boiling the planet alive.” —Jade Colbert, The Globe and Mail
“This is my last read of 2020 and I couldn’t be happier. What a great way to end my year of “reading away 2020”. —Instagram, @pawsandpagesbyannie
“What Joni Murphy adroitly does in this entertaining, somewhat dystopian romp is bring to the forefront through the eyes of a delightful alpaca what power, greed, racism, corruption, and the many forces we humans must come to terms with together. Then, battle through by dropping our opportunities to allow those who come after us to have a future. We’re all in this collectively, and hopefully, we will open our eyes and realize the land needs the sea as much as I need you!” —Instagram, @lindsay_wincherauk
Joni Murphy is a writer from New Mexico who lives in New York. Her debut novel Double Teenage was published by Book*hug Press in 2016. It was named one of The Globe and Mail’s 100 Best Books of the Year.