I’m so happy to be part of the Squad Pod’s first blog tour for this unusual but uplifting book by Tim Ewins. To describe what it’s about is quite difficult, and I loved Tim Ewins’s own words in his interview with Emma from Emma’s Biblio Treasures blog: ‘I can tell you a bit about the book in a very literal sense: It’s about a bloke on a beach that meets a kid on a beach and tells that kid his life story. They both get drunk and watch a cow dance to dance music.’
Of course there’s much more to it than that, it’s philosophical, romantic, humorous and uplifting. A man called Jan and a teenager called Shakey meet on a beach in Goa. Shakey dismisses Jan as a ‘moustache’ – slightly boring, set in his ways and unable to have a good time. Jan dismisses Shakey as a vest. Vests are kids who come out to Goa and pretentiously think they have found themselves by visiting one beach and one club. They go back home, pretending to be enlightened and changed by their visit to Goa, despite having no experiences at all except alcohol and a bar. However, the two do meet and sit having a drink together. Shakey wants to know what has kept this moustache coming back to this beach time and time again. So he is told a love story, how Jan is in love with a woman (also called Jan). ManJan and WomanJan have come in and out of each other’s lives over the years, but this time she hasn’t come back in. So ManJan sits on this beach, that’s special to them both, and hopes for her to appear.
The only other living creature close to them on the beach is a cow and she gets her own short chapter. This may seem totally off the wall and quirky, but go with it. As I was reading I thought there were a lot of similarities between ManJan and the cow. Both have a set daily routine involving the beach and both are evolving alongside the place. When ManJan first came to Goa this place was unspoiled, much quieter and less commercialised. Now it’s full of vests like Shakey, dance music and glow sticks. Yet ManJan finds Shakey a good listening ear, so maybe there’s more to these vests than meets the eye? The cow meanwhile, weaves happily between tourists and even finds herself meditatively nodding along to the thumping dance music.
We hear ManJan’s story and the curious way certain things keep cropping up in his life, like the fishing he thought he’d left behind in England, but crops up again in Scandinavia. WomanJan also turns up for the first time in Sweden and steals his passport, leading to a caper through, Europe, Russia and India. Each destination is beautifully evoked, in very few words we know exactly where we are. In each location an unusual array of characters come into the orbit of this couple and have an influence on their journeys. Then between each section of the story are the animal scenes, throwing light on the human situation or a particular character in some way, which is so clever. Throughout, ManJan and WomanJan keep bumping into each other and eventually love happens. However, this is the longest time they’ve been away from each other, they’ve always found each other in the past. When tragedy ripped them apart, he assumed they’d simply run into each other again, but maybe they won’t this time.
I thought this was one of the more quirky novels I’d ever read and it is unusual in structure and characters. It’s a love story, travelogue, meditation, comedy and tragedy all in one. What Ewins does, rather brilliantly, is keep the balance between these elements, using the animal chapters as literary palate cleansers. In the end though, all these disparate strands come together to create a beautiful story about being human and doing what E.M.Forster suggested was our purpose on earth – to connect.
Meet The Author
Tim Ewins had an eight-year stand-up career alongside his accidental career in finance, before turning to writing fiction. He has previously written for DNA Mumbai, had two short stories highly commended and published in Michael Terence Short Story Anthologies, and had a very brief acting stint (he’s in the film Bronson, somewhere in the background). He lives with his wife, son and dog in Bristol. We Are Animals is his first novel.