Ark Baby Paperback – 3 Sep 2001
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Liz Jensen's second novel, Ark Baby, is a dark, randy and riotous romp back to the future featuring twin plot lines as tightly twisted as a double helix. The novel (if not the story) kicks into gear on New Year's Eve 1999 when a sudden, heavy rainfall over Britain signals the end of fertility on the sceptred isle; with the turn of the millennium, every last specimen of British womanhood is rendered mysteriously barren. In the aftermath of this event, child-starved couples start turning to lower primates to satisfy their baby lust; enter veterinarian Bobby Sullivan, the hapless hero of Jensen's quirky meditation on evolution and survival of the fittest. After accidentally killing a client's beloved macaque monkey and being charged with murder, Bobby escapes to a remote northern seaside town called Thunder Spit and eventually gets involved with two slightly hirsute twins whom he manages to impregnate--the first fertile women in England since the millennium.
Not content to chronicle Bobby's adventures in Thunder Spit around the dawn of the new millennium, Jensen weaves in the 19th-century adventures of foundling Tobias Phelps as counterpoint. Discovered abandoned in the Thunder Spit church by a childless vicar and his wife, Tobias is raised by the couple as their own, but his unusual appearance (squashed features, odd feet, hairy body) spur him to find his biological parents. As Bobby muddles towards 21st-century parenthood and Tobias gets tangled up in Victorian England's fascination with the theories of Darwin, the two plots begin to converge in a welter of diary entries, exotic recipes, strange artefacts and curious coincidences. By the end of Ark Baby readers might well conclude that far from being "red in tooth and claw", nature has one hell of a sense of humour. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'Superb ... wonderfully funny fiction' Daily Telegraph 'A clever, beautifully written, zeitgeisty novel about man's uncertain place in the great chain of being ... underpinned with a sense of humour that takes the extraordinary for granted' Independent 'As much a comedic riff on the assumptions of social progress as it is on the eccentricities of natural selection ... think of Ark Baby as "Monty Python's Origin of Species" ' New York Times Book Review 'A massively ambitious, comic dystopic satire ... Jensen is as sharp as a needle' Literary Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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Bobby Sullivan is a vet who lives in a Britain where no babies have been born since the Millennium. He himself was born on the day Elvis died; a memorable date in history if ever there was one. Unbeknownst to him, Bobby Sullivan is going to play a quite considerable role in evolution. Trouble is, he has to get out of town first, since his mercy killing of a marriage has got him into a wee bit of trouble. Here, you begin to see the evolution of Liz Jensen's own creations: 'Giselle' previously appeared as a short story all of its own, and concerned the disposal of a dog, rather than a Macaque monkey. There's also an early sight of Jensen's next novel 'The Paper Eater' on page 102, when Bobby Sullivan muses that the fate of Britain may be to become a nuclear waste dumping ground (since there would be no one living there, due to the fertility crisis). The story also moves back in time, to the discovery of a curious small baby, abandoned in the church of Parson Phelps. The good priest, after giving what he thinks is a pig a good kick on the bottom, repents by taking the child in. The care given by the Parson and his wife means that Tobias Phelps (as they christen him), can recover from his injuries. But who is the strange, illiterate woman whose narrative interrupts the text? Who has been conducting far more ambitious experiments than Gregor Mendel?
Thus Buck de Savile (Bobby Sullivan's new identity) arrives in the ancient Viking settlement of Thunder Spit. He believes that he has successfully escaped the town practice where monkey pets have replaced children, and is looking forward to inserting his arm into a cow's bottom. But it's not long before Buck is dragged off to look at some examples of Victorian taxidermy stuffed into a Thunder Spit attic inhabited by a comic ghost known as 'the Laudanum Empress', an avid fan of the crystal box which spews forth 'The Young and the Restless'. We jump back another 150 years and watch from a balloon as the mortal Laudanum Empress and her eminent taxidermist husband Ivanhoe Scrapie conceive their last child, Violet. Thus begins the chain of events which brings Horace Trapp's bloodstained Ark home, along with chef extraordinaire, Jacques-Yves Cabillaud, exponent of 'Cuisine Zoologique', a recipe book which he developed whilst acting as cook on board the Beagle. Meanwhile, Buck gets to grips with beautiful twin sisters Rose and Blanche and their peculiarly shaped feet. The twins participate in the mass pregnancy hoax following the bombing of the National Egg Bank and the death of Albion. As Rose and Blanche research their family history, Buck begins to wonder about his stamina and the stuffed 'Gentleman Monkey': could it be valuable evidence of a missing link?
Parson Phelps tells Tobias that fossils are just God's little joke, but he takes the publication of Charles Darwin's work very seriously, to the extent of ripping pages of it from the pulpit. Ivanhoe Scrapie, frustrated zoologist, also despairs that his fame has been eclipsed by that of Darwin. But just as Tobias discovers a strange and tantalising new fruit, so Scrapie thinks that he has found a missing piece of the puzzle. Violet, who has positively ballooned under the influence of cuisine zoologique, has a chance encounter with Henry Salt, the Victorian Vegetarianism activist. Soon, everybody's writing cookbooks...
Liz Jensen's social satire is as vibrant and readable as ever. Ark Baby has jokes trotting out of it two by two. She's also quick to point out that Darwinism and evolution theory still resound today, especially with the mapping of the human genome. Also buried within these pages are hints of the real life stories and tragedies: the difficult relationship between Captain FitzRoy of the Beagle and Darwin (echoed in Matthew Kneale's English Passengers), the interbreeding of the inhabitants of Thunder Spit recalls Darwin's infertile marriage to his first cousin, mentions of fossil hunting in Lyme Regis revivifies Mary Anning. But I think the most successful resurrection of all is that of Henry Salt. Suet the dog's instinctive reaction is to bite him, but even he sheds a tear as Henry Salt expounds on the Rights of Animals. Henry Salt's writings are still as powerful today, and extremely topical as Foot and Mouth runs on. I've created a page on the context of this novel for interested readers. Liz Jensen's brilliantly entertaining satire should also be as powerful many years from now. Liz Jensen is nothing less than George Orwell with wit.
The novel comprises two storylines: one about a vet a few years in the future, when a mysterious infertility is afflicting only the women of the UK; the other about an unusual child, abandoned in Victorian times on a minister's doorstop. The book is highly enjoyable to read, and sometimes surprisingly poignant considering the outlandish premise. To say more would be to give too much away: give yourself a break from the chick-lit and the Grisham factory and try something unusual...
The first plot line is contemporary. Following the Millenium, all the women in the UK have become sterile and have resorted to adopting various animals, but mostly chimps and monkeys, as child substitutes. A London vet, Bobby Sullivan has been forced to flee to Thunder Spit in order to make a new life.
The two other plots are set in Thunder Spit and London in Victorian times.
The first involves the Queen's taxidermist and his daughter Violet and the second a young foundling called Tobias Phelps, who has a tapeworm called Matilda and excessive body hair!
This is a really involving, clever and witty novel. I really didn't want it to end. The characters are nothing if not peculiar, but by the end of the novel you really care about them. The way in which Jensen concludes the novel is masterly.
I didn't want it to end. Highly recommended.
One is set in 2005 and and combines satirical humour with a character so believble you think you've met him a thousand times before. Another set in the 18th century really brings out the escence of human nature. And the third set in Victorian Britain with some of the most outlandish characters you'll ever meet.
This really is a must-read book.
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Immediately bought all her other books!