cover image Experimental Animals: A Reality Fiction

Experimental Animals: A Reality Fiction

Thalia Field. Solid Objects, $20 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-9862355-3-5

The values of humane treatment of animals and scientific experimentation battle for supremacy in this dense and philosophical “reality fiction.” “Every person is born equally into an argument,” claims narrator Fanny Bernard, wife of 19th-century French physiologist Claude Bernard. From her grave, Fanny aims to challenge the narrative of Claude as a champion of progress. She tells how Claude expanded and popularized the method known as vivisection—in which live animals were operated on and observed—and how she began working directly against her husband, rescuing animals Claude would have placed on the operating table. Fanny presents her tale as a treatise, complete with primary source evidence, in the form of a letter to doctor and animal rights advocate Anna Kingsford, one of Claude’s vocal critics. Fanny calls upon the voices of Émile Zola, Charles Baudelaire, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Charles Darwin, Gustave Flaubert, and Kingsford herself to reveal the intellectual war raging amid the collapse of the French Second Empire. Zola emerges as a particularly significant mouthpiece, as his goal of perfecting the “experimental novel” draws ridicule from both the scientific and artistic communities. Field (Bird Lovers) seems to be deeply engaged with Zola’s question, “Is experimentation possible in literature, where heretofore observation alone seems to have been used?” With language that sticks closely to 19th-century style and vocabulary, and no dialogue in the traditional sense, Field’s ambitious novel will astonish with its dry wit, synthesis of ideas, and intricate balance of scope and intimacy. (Nov.)