Monday, December 10, 2012

Albert of Adelaide by Howard Anderson

Howard Anderson's Albert of Adelaide is a charming, oddball tale about a platypus who escaped from a zoo with a quest to find somewhere that he could feel at peace. In the remote desert of northeastern Australia, the first animal that Albert the Platypus encounters is a wombat arsonist and con artist named Jack.

"Jack paused to pour more tea into his cup. 'I don't know how much you know about wombats, Albert, but we're a boring lot, let me tell you.'
'I've seen one or two from a distance, but you're the first one I've ever talked to,' Albert replied.
'We live in deep holes, come out in the early morning or late in the evening, eat some leaves, and then call it a day. What kind of life is that?' [...]
Except for all those leaves, the life didn't sound too bad to Albert. 'Quiet.'
'Damn right it's quiet. It was too damn quiet for me.' Jack spit a tea leaf into the fire."

Some of the characters that Albert meets are not so friendly as Jack. In a bar at Ponsby Station, he encounters outright prejudice: "WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE TO ANYONE WHO ISN'T A MARSUPIAL. The Management." Misadventure ensues.

It is rare to find an allegory written with such a light touch as Albert of Adelaide. Animal fantasy is also an unusual subgenre for an adult audience. Actually, this book would be fine for readers as young as 9 or 10. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the film Rango.

Readalikes: The Sisters Brothers (Patrick DeWitt); Mr and Mrs Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire! (Polly Horvath); and The Rabbits (John Marsden and Shaun Tan).

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