How to Love Animals: In a Human-Shaped World By Henry Mance (Vintage Publishing), £20

Eleanor Longman-Rood

This book begins with the best line I have read in a while: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by cat videos”. It holds some weight considering broadcaster Tom Bradby couldn’t contain his laughter when presenting that video of US judge Rod Ponton who, on a court case video call, couldn’t turn off an effect to make him appear as a white kitten while embarrassedly insisting to lawyers on the call “I’m not a cat”. 

How to Love Animals: In a Human-Shaped World is Henry Mance’s personal quest to see if there is a kinder way to live alongside other species and if our love of animals has a beneficial effect on their livelihood. He meets people from all walks of life, such as French chef Alexis Gauthier who lost the Michelin star of his Soho restaurant, Gauthier Soho, when he started to prioritise vegan options over meat dishes after becoming vegan in 2016.

The book is a joy to read and is an educational one too. Readers will learn that lawyer Thomas Erskine proposed a ban on the cruel treatment of animals in 1809, only two years after abolishing the slave trade with still some slaves yet to be freed in the Caribbean. And that under British law, a vet must be present at abattoirs at all times.

Writer and broadcaster Gaia Vince commented that the book is “unsentimental, hugely enjoyable and full of fatalistic details.” Fatalistic and hugely enjoyable are accurate, but I’m afraid I disagree with her first judgement. Mance’s book is sentimental to a point; he writes about his experiences of keeping chickens with his two young daughters, for example. As always, Henry Mance writes in a way that makes you think and feel to exactly the right ratio.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (Merky Books), £14.99.

Alice Crossley 

#Merky Books, the Penguin imprint curated by UK rapper Stormzy, was created to give a platform to young writers and promote the message that anyone can be an author. #Merky Books’ latest publication is Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon, a 32-year-old American author. The book’s plot follows a pregnant fifteen-year-old, Vern, who has escaped the religious commune Cainland. The cult she was born into celebrates black power through complete divorce from the outside world and the white economy, using violence and manipulation to control the families that live within it. After escaping and giving birth, Vern raises her two infants, Howling and Feral, as wild creatures in the woodlands, all the while haunted by the memories of her past.

Sorrowland explores contemporary America and its divisive religion, racism and oppression whilst also playing on the traditional gothic form. Using the woodlands as a setting to explore the liminality between man and monster, Vern’s existence represents the uncanny experience of life on the margins of society. As she separates herself further and further from Cainland, Vern finds her body metamorphosing as if something is growing inside of her. Plagued by strange afflictions and subhuman strength, she finds her childhood friend and fellow ex-Cainlander, Lucy. In doing so, Vern introduces her wild offspring to the outside world, allowing Solomon to offer a vision of America through the eyes of the innocent and unfamiliar. 

The author described writing the book as an opposition to the “literary tradition that problematises who and who isn’t branded the monster.” Solomon uses the Gothic form and imaginative fiction to explore a history of marginalised voices and critiques contemporary American society in a way that has never been done before. In the end, Vern realises that the darkness she is escaping is not one person or place but a nation, its history and the systems within it. This creative fiction bends genres to create a world uncannily similar to our own.