Ever seen a Feral Parfumier Bee? A Beanie Shark? A Truth Bat?
Of course not. They’re invisible.
In Sharona Muir’s charming and inventive Invisible Beasts*, which will be available tomorrow, we meet Sophie, a naturalist with a peculiar genetic quirk: she can see invisible animals. Invisible Beasts belongs to these invisible creatures, rather than to Sophie, but her humane (in the best sense) voice links each tale together, and gradually we gain a sense of her life’s contours and concerns. Her sister, Evie, is a biologist, and the two sisters are linked by their concern for the natural world, though pushed apart, sometimes by how they perceive it.
Because Invisible Beasts eschews plot in favor of description — and rightly so — it feels odd to call it a novel, when really it is, as Sophie points out, a bestiary, a compendium of beasts. Bestiaries date back to antiquity, and have been written in every age since. Often, an animal — real or imagined — is pictured, a description is given, and some sort of lesson is imparted (for example, how an animal is an allegory for a virtue or a vice). Ms. Muir’s book forgoes illustration, of course, but her descriptions are glorious in their multi-textured detail. Part of the fun of reading Invisible Beasts is the unexpected, so I won’t quote here — but I hope you’ll have the pleasure of reading it for yourself. Sophie, through her whimsical and funny descriptions of her beloved creatures, offers us insights about love, sex, truthfulness, perspective, and the passage of time.
As for lessons: Ms. Muir is significantly more subtle than her medieval predecessors, though Invisible Beasts is deeply concerned with humanity’s relationship with the natural world; this is definitely environmental fiction. Invisible Beasts is a book about, at its heart, symbiosis, and how we understand our own humanity through the non-human.
Wednesday: An interview with Sharona Muir, author of Invisible Beasts.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.