Thursday, September 6, 2012

Shelf Life [adult]

Albert of Adelaide, by Howard L Anderson@SPL: FIC Ander

Outback Australia is not a setting one would expect for a first novel by a defense attorney from New Mexico. Nor would one expect the main protagonist to be that enigma of the mammalian world, a platypus. Named Albert. Albert escapes the water tank at the Adelaide Zoo which magnified the faces that stared at him for 14 hours a day through green algae. He hops a train heading deep into the heart of the Outback in search of Old Australia, “the place where things haven’t changed and Australia is like it used to be,” the place about which the zoo animals had whispered reverently and wistfully.

A lone little platypus a long way from a river is bound to need friends, and the first he comes upon is an old wombat named Jack, who has never heard of Old Australia. For him there is just survival, and he takes Albert under his paw, gives him some clothes and teaches him about money. In Jack’s Australia, wallabies are evil, bandicoots are drunks, and dingoes are untamed, respected and respect those that fight well and with honour. Albert is told of the legendary Muldoon, who might help him find the Australia he seeks, and meets up with a creature just as odd in the Outback as he is himself, a raccoon from San Francisco.

But as easily as he makes friends the little platypus also makes enemies, distrusted for his strange looks, luck and fierce fighting. He becomes wanted for murders he did not commit, and though deaths do occur as a result of his poisonous spurs, those make his reputation. As Albert battles prejudice and possums he becomes an animal he barely recognizes yet remains loyal to his friends, and true to his dream of freedom.

Albert of Adelaide has all the adventure of Huckleberry Finn, a little bit of the melancholy of Paradise Lost, resembles Watership Down in its allegories (and animals), and has a hint of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is delightful surprise of a read, and a thoroughly enjoyable first novel. That just happens to star a platypus. Named Albert.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on September 6th, 2012. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

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