Monday, 26 July 2010

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

I have been reading this book aloud to two people - a blind lady I support and my boyfriend. I strongly believe that is a book that needs to be spoken out loud, so that the different voices can be heard. I actually think that this is one of the best books I have read, though I admit I haven't yet read "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" also by Marina Lewycka, which has good reviews also.

I understand from reading other reviews, that many people have found the voice of Dog annoying. I also found him hard to tolerate at first, since he has no grammar and always uses capital letters, but there is a point to him being one of the story's narrators. I believe that the author intended Dog's voice to be a stepping stone to that of the chickens in the factory farm. It left me thinking, what would the chickens say if we could interpret their squawks and screams? We are used to seeing images of factory chickens, but it is easy to be so horrified that we cut off emotionally and then we cannot really think about what to do about it. Lweycka uses humour and little breaks in the plotline to allow the reality of the chicken factory to settle in. The reader is reminded that animals, of course, are sentient beings and we recognise, of course, that this situation is deeply, morally wrong. We are told that the chickens are being prepared for a supermarket BOGOF offer and it does not take much to connect the dots. When we buy chicken, even if it has a nice name - in this case the pleasing sounding "Buttercup Meadow Farmfresh Poultry" - we are getting a chicken or pieces of a chicken that has been tortured for the whole of its short life, burning in excrement, stressed, stuffed cheek-to-jowl with other chickens, stuffed full of food and antibiotics to the point where it cannot well support its own weight.

I assure you that while I aim to buy Free Range, I have not always done so. After all, you can sometimes buy a whole chicken for £2. To quote Ciocia Yola (admiring the man with calves like marrows) "Well, in this situation, what woman would not?" After reading this, I cannot look at the chickens in the supermarket in quite the same way again, even the cheapest ones seem to be too high a cost to me. Poor chickens.

Back to Dog and to respond to those who do not see his purpose within the story. It is clear to me that Dog, as well as being the stepping stone to our connection with the poor chickens, is also the voice of freedom. While the humans are bound by the chains of so-called 'civilisation' and must work hard for their money (and see little of it unless they are willing to sacrfice their morals in some way), dog is a pure voice. He does what he wants, when he wants and he shows kindness and compassion for the immigrants that he attaches himself to. Even Dog has his opinions, though these are based mainly on smell and doggy values/ preferences. Dog is self-sufficient. He is an excellent hunter and catches (free-range) birds and rabbits whenever he likes. He plays when he likes and he sleeps deeply and contently whenever he likes, unlike some of the humans.

I think that this is a novel that asks the reader to think deeply about their morals, but does this through plenty of humour and character interest.

If you read this story, do yourself a favour and speak the words out loud. Have a go at speaking the different accents and get to grips with 'being' the different characters within the story. See what it feels like to play Vulk who is big and dumb and dangerous, or Neil, the teenager at the chicken factory who is trying oh-so-hard to learn how to smoke properly.

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