A Look into the Short Story Menagerie: Fauna by Dr David Hartley
Fauna is a short story collection by Dr David Hartley. It was dedicated to the volunteers and staff at the Manchester and Salford RSPCA, alongside those who care for animals in their everyday lives. As expected of its title and dedication, themes of nature prevail throughout, particularly the idea of animals versus humans.
At once darkly humorous and deeply dystopian, each short story blurs the line between prey and predator, with the hunted becoming the hunter in unexpected and unusual ways. Despite exploring their own distinct worlds, each short story acts as part of a larger narrative, which speaks of animals’ capacities to think and feel as humans do.
The collection was shortlisted for the Writer in Residence Programme at Gladstone’s Library, for work involving a commitment to social justice. It went on to be longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize, for excellence within the short story format. For readers interested in purchasing a copy, a summary of each short story can be found below:
Broadcast of the Foxes:
A family is haunted by a shapeshifting fox that slowly, psychologically tortures them. As events escalate and tensions rise, skin-crawling descriptions of the fox sneaking past the adults to eat the fingers and toes of their children are stomach-churning. The concept of the shapeshifting fox is reminiscent of kitsune folklore that originates from Japan. During the Edo period, it was believed that fox yōkai would trick humans in harmless or harmful ways, becoming their friends or foes on a whim.
Shooting an Elephant:
A man enters an arena where he hunts a troupe of circus acrobats balancing on one another to mime being an elephant. The increasing violence of the hunter against the “elephant” is made more haunting by the fact that they are a troupe of humans pretending to be an animal. By turning the pain of a hunted animal into the pain of multiple humans, both the stakes and empathy are heightened, particularly as the performance is being livestreamed to thousands across the world.
A Place to Dump Guinea Pigs:
The ferryman of the Styx River discusses some of the lost souls he rowed across to the shores of the Underworld. Despite being emblematic of death, the ferryman is depicted as kind and conversational, with a warm northern accent. As he recounts his past, he encounters a customer planning on drowning a bag of guinea pigs in the depths of the Styx, surprising even himself with his determination to save the animals from their undeserved fate.
The narrator is abducted from their garden by starlings, magpies, and gulls, who whisk them away to an island. The isle is covered in a tropical rainforest, where many birds of paradise live within its groves. Towering over the rainforest is a mountain, where a mysterious bird rules over the entire island. It has a strange request for the narrator…
Come and See the Whale:
A press conference about a whale held in captivity in a tank is hosted within Oceania Aquarium in London. The narrative is a peek into the future, exploring what it would be like to capture the body of a sperm whale, whilst its mind believes it is still swimming in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
The presence of technology permeates the short story; the audience in attendance is encouraged to post using the hashtag #MobyWhale, and log into the app on their tablets for a live feed of what Moby is seeing whilst suspended in his virtual reality version of the ocean. The idea of having a mind that is free and a body that is in captivity is explored, unpacking whether this is a kindness or a cruelty. This moral dilemma is then answered by the sudden, shocking ending.
This short story was inspired by the RoboRoach Kickstarter campaign, during which neuroscientists aimed to attach electrodes to the brain of a live cockroach, which could then be controlled using an app on a phone. It is narrated from the point-of-view of a cockroach that is turned into a video game character and controlled through a console and its controller.
These themes of cockroaches and transformation invite comparisons to Metamorphoses written by Franz Kafka in 1915. The title itself is referential to the novella, whilst also acknowledging modern day influences with the inclusion of the word ‘beta’, which subtly nods to the fact that the poor narrator is nothing more than a simple experiment to the scientists. Will the roaches survive and escape their ordeal?
A single father tries his best to please his daughter by spoiling her with pets and the latest technology to care for them, whilst neglecting to genuinely care for her first pet, a rabbit called Flopsy. However, tools such as automated food and drink dispensers mean that the family slowly interacts with their pets less and less over time. This explores whether keeping a pet in a cage is a form of kindness or cruelty, as they are made safe from predators but also closed away from their own kind and nature.
A Time Before Horses:
Three different horses from the past, present, and future meet to assess a monstrous creature that poses a threat to their master. The creature slowly approaches the inn where their master and other humans are having dinner, oblivious to the danger. The fact that depending on which horse’s theory is correct, the narrative could have three different endings is particularly engaging, leaving much to the reader’s imagination.
Tyson / Dog:
The short, simple sentences used throughout show that this is from the point-of-view of a robotic dog called Tyson. The juxtaposition between the former real dog and latter robot dog is bittersweet, as the robot dog scans through files of the real dog’s memories with his family. As the reader receives snippets of the past, the tragic misunderstanding that led to the death of his predecessor is revealed and opens up conversations around dog breeds that have been bred and trained for violent purposes.
A Panda Appeared in Our Street:
A panda is discovered skewered to the spiked fence outside of the narrator’s home. Instead of actually saving the panda, the local community gather together to find it a mate, encouraging the pair to breed and have cubs. The idea of wilful ignorance toward environmental issues and the slow extinction of certain species is explored.
A crew of fishermen cast their nets into the sea, only to pull up Poseidon from its depths. The captain of the boat goes on to become friends with the sea god, who steers them toward a tropical island full of fish, dolphins, and whales, with a surprising ending that is an interesting spin on fantasy and science fiction.
Explores the idea of what would happen if every bug was taken away from earth, and the ramifications this would have on the entire food chain, ending with the extinction of the human race. This opens the door to conversations around how we treat insects and vermin that we view as inferior, reiterating the importance of every living creature.
Thanks for reading our latest blog post highlighting the talented short story collection within Fauna by Dr David Hartley. To read more of his work, make sure to purchase a copy from our shop!
By Ashley Eyvanaki