There are no human characters in this debut novel of fantasy and allegory that will leave some readers wondering what the point of it is.
The novel reads like Siddhartha transplanted to the Australian outback. Or like Lonesome Dove recast for a platypus, wombats and dingoes. Or like the novelization of a Pixar animated feature with way more blood and alcohol than usual. The titular protagonist is a duck-billed platypus who, having escaped from the Adelaide Zoo, wanders into the desert, having “no idea where he was going, or exactly what he was looking for.” He had a vague idea of a destination, “somewhere in the desert…a place where old Australia still existed…keep going north…the Promised Land.” The narrator continues: “Those descriptions had sounded good in Adelaide, but they were worthless in a desert where every direction looked the same.” Before long, Albert finds company in Jack, a wombat who has more experience in the ways of the desert, and who tends to fight fire (and everything else) with fire. The two end up in a bar, one that could have been from any Western, except everyone there is an animal, and none of these animals had ever seen a platypus in the desert. Albert, whose natural habitat is water, thus has his first encounter with a different strain of prejudice: “At the zoo, Albert had been an object of curiosity and ridicule. In Old Australia he found himself an object of hate and mistrust.” Trouble ensues, Jack and Albert split up, and Albert finds himself at the Gates of Hell (literally, there’s even a sign saying so), the target of a manhunt (er, platypus-hunt), the leader of a renegade posse of dingoes and the recipient of age-old wisdom such as, “A gun can get you into trouble and sometimes it can get you out of it.” And, “A good run is always better than a bad fight.”
A novel that tests the reader’s patience for animal whimsy and elaborate fables.