On World Animal Day, novelist Henrietta Rose-Innes looks at some of the best depictions of this ‘crucial human task’, by James Herriot, Karen Joy Fowler and others
Understanding how we engage with the creatures who share our planet seems to me a crucial human task in this dire portion of the Anthropocene. In my last two novels, I’ve pondered this in different ways. In Nineveh, human figures are literally overwhelmed by the multifarious beings that share the urban space with them (beetles, in particular). It’s about being in a relationship with the natural world, even if it creeps us out. My last novel, Green Lion, is a more sombre look at the other side of that coin: in a world rapidly emptying of species, we yearn for closer kinship with creatures we may never understand – and who we may well destroy before we get a chance to know them.
Our interactions with animals are many and various, ranging from devotion to a pet goldfish, say, to the raw violence that take place in a dogfighting ring or factory farm. The relationships I’m drawn to, and have chosen to highlight below, are intimate, enigmatic and mostly benign, characterised by hopeful longing for communion with minds and bodies like but unlike our own.