The English-speaking world has long had a love affair with literature that attempts to describe experience from the point of view of another species. Henry Williamson is perhaps the best-known British chronicler of the beast’s inner world: his early forays, particularly Tarka the Otter (1927) and Salar the Salmon (1935), are considered classics of the genre.
Another notable transatlantic expression of the form is by the Canadian journalist Fred Bodsworth. Last of the Curlews (1955) is about the intimate lives and loves of a pair of birds called Eskimo curlews, which were hunted to extinction during the 20th century. It deploys something of Williamson’s formula – forensically detailed evocations of place, blended with scientifically accurate descriptions of animal behaviour – to elude the accusations of anthropomorphism that are so often levelled at books of this kind. Like Williamson’s Tarka, Bodsworth’s novel sold millions around the world, has never been out of print since first publication and was turned into an award-winning film.
The evergreen popularity of the two, which also share, incidentally, the ambiguous border territory between so-called adult and children’s literature, prompts an important question. Why should grown men and women wish, Dr Dolittle-like, to converse with the animals and gain