A fox with a rose-tinted view of hu­mankind is brought down to earth

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Books - RE­VIEW BY ALAS­TAIR MABBOTT

FOX 8

Ge­orge Saun­ders (Blooms­bury, £9.99)

So what does a writer do af­ter a hugely ac­claimed Book­er­win­ning ex­per­i­men­tal novel like Lin­coln In The Bardo, which it­self fol­lowed close on the heels of Tenth Of De­cem­ber, of­ten de­scribed as one of the best short story col­lec­tions in years? If his name is Ge­orge Saun­ders, he res­ur­rects a short 2014 e-book, slip­ping it be­tween hard cov­ers and send­ing it out into the world.

Ap­par­ently left out of Tenth Of De­cem­ber on the grounds that Saun­ders felt it would be “one stretch too many” for his read­ers, it takes the form of a letter writ­ten by a fox, the tit­u­lar Fox 8, sent to some­one he hopes will be kind enough to clear up his con­fu­sion about the na­ture of the hu­man race. Fox 8 has be­come quite en­am­oured of hu­mans, learn­ing their lan­guage by eaves­drop­ping on par­ents telling their chil­dren bed­time sto­ries. He hasn’t got the hang of the spelling yet, so the book is filled with his vulpine pho­netic ap­prox­i­ma­tions of English words.

Un­for­tu­nately, de­spite him hav­ing noted the un­re­al­is­tic de­pic­tions of bears, owls and chick­ens in these sto­ries, it hasn’t oc­curred to Fox 8 that hu­mans might mis­rep­re­sent them­selves too. He’s only seen the good parts: the chil­drea­r­ing, and some of the amaz­ing things, way be­yond the abil­i­ties of foxes, that peo­ple have achieved. His rose-tinted view is as yet un­spoiled by knowl­edge of their propen­sity for greed, vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion.

Fox 8 is thus suit­ably im­pressed when he sees that the hu­mans are build­ing a mall nearby, called FoxView Com­mons – iron­i­cally, con­sid­er­ing it will de­stroy the habi­tat of the very foxes from which it takes its name. This, he thinks, could be the so­lu­tion to the food short­ages the starv­ing foxes are fac­ing. They can steal it from the food court. The other foxes are du­bi­ous, but, puffed up by his day­dreams of hero­ism and self­im­por­tance, he in­ves­ti­gates, com­pletely

un­pre­pared for a sav­age at­tack on his friend Fox 7 by con­struc­tion work­ers. With the man­gled re­mains of Fox 7 by his paws, and the habi­tat of his fel­lows be­ing laid waste, all Fox 8 can do is ask why God saw fit to make the crea­tures with the great­est skills the mean­est.

De­spite the big print, low page­count and the line draw­ings dec­o­rat­ing al­most ev­ery page, it doesn’t feel like a chil­dren’s book – the death of Fox 7, one as­sumes, might be a bit graphic for younger kids and the pho­netic mis­spelling would cer­tainly face re­sis­tance from par­ents and teach­ers. The fox him­self seems to recog­nise that his tale lacks the happy end­ing and clear moral res­o­lu­tion of the bed­time sto­ries he so ad­mired. Per­haps Fox 8 would have fared bet­ter if it had been left in Tenth Of De­cem­ber. In iso­la­tion, pro­moted as “the new Ge­orge Saun­ders book”, it’s much more no­tice­able that it has noth­ing par­tic­u­larly orig­i­nal or pro­found to say, get­ting by on the charm and in­no­cence of its nar­ra­tor and the keen­ing poignancy of his plea for un­der­stand­ing.

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