on 1 March 2001
The reader is transported into an unfamiliar yet evocative landscape and made to view things through the eyes of elephants. The author has created a fascinating yet believable universe filled with sympathetic creatures with their unique social structure, world view and beliefs, all trying desperately to understand the slaughter of their kind.
'The White Bone' is beautifully written. The language of the animals are a delight to read. Elephants speak in a formal timbre, birds of prey are taciturn and aloof, mangooses twitter repetitively. The elephants call snakes 'flow sticks', the ostrich is a 'big fly', the zebra is called 'ribs' (because in an earlier incarnation its skeleton covered its flesh), 'rouge's web' are wire fences put up by humans and the helicopters used to hunt them are 'roar flies' .
Not a simple act of creativity, the author based her book on work done by animal behaviourists, showing how elephants are intelligent creatures, how they live in matriarchal groups, how they communicate, how they mourn their dead, etc.
If the tragedy of the elephants do not move you, nothing will. Highly recommended.
on 31 October 2012
I bought this book as a Christmas present for a family member, after seeing it mentioned in a book about animal emotions that I read earlier this year. I wasn't expecting anything stunning from it, but I liked the concept and thought it would make a good present. I decided to give it a read before passing it on and I was so pleasantly surprised.
Usually, books from the perspective of animals are pretty much just "If [insert species here] thought like a human, what would they think?" This book is very different from that, because Barbara Gowdy has managed to avoid human perspectives and culture as much as possible. She's done her research, too, and there are a lot of references to behaviours that have been seen in wild elephants recently that tell us a lot about their emotions and behaviour. Although there are some fanciful elements to it, I don't feel that those damage the concept at all. It's just so refreshing to see an author really delve so deeply into animal behaviour in a novel. Even the characters' perspectives on mating, their thoughts about genitalia, defication or urination that humans may find a little repulsive just serve to give a more animal perspective of these behaviours without making them obscene. She's also created a culture for them based on their natural behaviour which is truly fascinating in it's own way.
Anyway, I really felt I needed to rave about how good this book is, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in animal behaviour or just a really, really good novel from the perspective of elephants.
on 26 October 1998
I am crazy about Barbara Gowdy. "Mr. Sandman" is one of the best books I have ever read. She can get away with things that would alienate me with other authors. She is gimmicky, but she is such an incredible writer that her prose takes you with it, makes the invention seem inevitable and throbbing with meaning.
"The White Bone" is a book based entirely on an invention. It is the story of an elephant named Mud. Through her we learn everything about elephants, their societal structure, their mythology, their language, their beliefs, an entire invented universe which is so brilliantly put together, it seems almost logical. Indeed, if elephants do speak to each other, if they do share a mythology, the one Barbara Gowdy describes is the only one possible.
And what would the point be, one might ask... The point, I think, is that "what if..." What if elephants do have a beautiful, ornate culture, what if we just don't know all about it yet, what if they become extinct before we are able to share their knowledge, their culture and their traditions and enrich our own understanding of the universe by participating in a gorgeous society.
To participate in it, through such a gifted writer as Ms. Gowdy, is a wonderful experience. The world is so rich, so touching, so beautiful, so real. I'm starting to think that Barbara Gowdy was an elephant in a previous life and that what she speaks of, comes from past-life transgression sessions.
on 18 August 2008
This is a wonderful book that takes you right into the world of elephants... but it's not so 'way out' that you have to suspend belief, for me the transition from real world to that of Mud and her family was made effortless by Gowdy's skillful writing. I was however pleased to see the references to zoological texts at the back of the book, it somehow made the book all the more amazing given that there is scientific basis for some of the characteristics and skills with which Gowdy endows her elephants...
A highly unusual book - poles apart from e.g. her other book "The Romantic" and a real must buy. I lent it to one of my friends - after reading it she went out and bought copies for her friends too!
Overall recommendation: BUY!!!
on 18 December 2014
Never heard of Barbara Gowdy before and I normally only read factual wildlife books but this was recommended to me as a "must read" and since I have a passion for wildlife (ellies in particular) I thought it was worth a read. Now it's worth mentioning early in my review the style of this book is very different from any other I have read, with a perspective of the world coming from the mind of an elephant. You will either love or hate it, if like me you opt for the latter, stick with it to around the third chapter. Not because the book is slow or the subject matter uninteresting but simply because the writing style and perspective takes a while to get your head around but once you surrender to the mind of the elephant the book is enjoyable, creative, moving and thought provoking. Writing a book from an elephants perspective (hind leggers are humans for example) is a bit of gamble and one that could have fallen quite flat without imagination and conviction but Gowdy successfully draws the reader in. The overall story is one of survival in a landscape where human hunters are rife, threatening the majestic elephant (and other animals). Is it worth a read? Yes, it really is a good book, well written and with a ton of imagination and one that anyone who enjoys stories about wildlife will enjoy but it's not a book every reader will take to easily.
on 1 June 2000
This is one of the most anthropomorphic books this side of a Disney cartoon. If you can suspend your disbelief for a moment, let yourself drift into a world of elephant theology and brutish survival in a hard world full of drought and poachers. Beautiful writing, and believable.
If you don't like it, you'll REALLY not like it.
on 8 May 2004
Elephants, death, birth, family, visions, friendship, loss, prophesy, crisis and the search for peace and redemption, delivered to you in prose as clean and sweet as the African bush itself. Pure magic. I have not enjoyed a book so much in years. Be an elephant for a few hours and get in touch with the deepest part of your humanity.