Book Review: The Zoo by Christopher Wilson

Reviewed by Huriyah Quadri

The Zoo caught me off guard; I wasn’t expecting it to be as fantastic as it was. The story is narrated by twelve-year-old Yuri, who suffers from brain damage following a series of tragic and extremely unfortunate accidents. One of the side-effects of the accidents is that Yuri has an everlasting smile plastered across his face that makes him strangely approachable. People find themselves divulging their deepest, darkest secrets to the little boy and this lands him in a spot of trouble when he is taken to help his father, a veterinarian, treat the Great Leader of the Motherland.

It isn’t made explicit but it is certainly implied that this ‘Motherland’ is Russia. Yuri and his father live in a socialist and confusing world where no one actually knows what the Great Leader really looks like. That knowledge alone can get you killed. The Leader is so removed from the people he rules over that he doesn’t realise his ideologies are not being put to action the way he wants them to be. I thought the subtlety in the way Wilson approached the oppressive scheme through the eyes of an innocent child was brilliant. Not only was Yuri’s voice believable and child-like, his brain damage and its resulting effects on Yuri were also consistent throughout the novel. I particularly liked how Wilson stylised his writing to match how Yuri would speak and write, for example, he uses short sentences, simple wording and Yuri’s grammar often slips up, reminding us how young he is.

The Zoo is genius. It’s dark and startling, with some parts hitting the horrific mark. But it’s also funny and engaging because of Yuri’s naivety and bewilderment. I honestly couldn’t stop reading and didn’t want to put the book down, I was hooked from the very first line right till the end. Wilson’s choice of protagonist was unconventional for such a gruesome story, I wouldn’t have expected to read a story concerning the pitfalls of socialism and the evil that comes with power through the eyes of a child, but the delivery was excellent and the novel unforgettable.

  • Published: 06 July 2017 | Publisher: Picador | ISBN: 9781509818594

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