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Various Pets Alive and Dead by Marina…
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Various Pets Alive and Dead (2012)

by Marina Lewycka

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Well written and the subject matter that tipped me into giving 4 stars. I guess I'm the right age group to enjoy it and the author has thrown enough plot into it to make 3 or 4 books - which I love. Needed to pay attention to follow it all.... Doncaster, communes, miners, economics, short selling, allotments, schools and reunions to name a few. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | May 27, 2018 |
This novel is full of unhappy characters, many of which are unlikeable. The telling of the story flits between different members of a family, mum and brother and sister and moves between the present and back to the past when the family lived in a commune. I didn't find the novel laugh out loud funny and it was the saddness that dominated it for me. Marina Lewycka usually has a bitter-sweet aspect to her novels and usually I find that the humour wins out but not this time. ( )
  Tifi | Aug 21, 2017 |
Filled with Marina Lewycka's trademark quirky characters and unusual situations, Various Pets Alive and Dead is a really good read. It started off a little slow I thought, but once I had really got into the story I loved it.

Doro and Marcus lived in a commune in Doncaster in the 70s and 80s and that's where their children, Serge and Clara, were brought up, along with their adopted sister, Oolie-Anna. Serge and Clara have rebelled against the free living of their childhood and work in banking/trading (Serge) and as a teacher (Clara). The story is set against the backdrop of the finance crisis in 2008.

I loved the characterisations and how the story played out. There's not a plot as such as it's more a slice of life story, but oh what lives these characters live! Such a lot of fun. ( )
1 vote nicx27 | Mar 2, 2016 |
I love this author's writing and, for me, this was her best yet. Skilfully depicting the contrasting worlds of communal hippiedom and high finance, it's an entertaining tale of dead hamsters, mathematical formulae, allotments and sex by rota. And, of course, it features the obligatory Ukrainian character. Full of well-researched detail, the author convinced me she knew about everything - from short-selling to Marxist theory. An easy read that didn't feel light or insubstantial Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote jayne_charles | Apr 4, 2015 |
Who caused the recession? The bankers, right? In particular the bankers who took risks. In particular the bankers who took risks without understanding hat they were doing, in addition to to those bankers who took risks and understood what they were doing and did it anyway. And why did they take risks? To make money. And why did they want to make money? Because they wanted to be rich.
In fairness, Serge doesn’t just want to become rich, he wants to become rich enough to run away with a female colleague he is fixated on. He’s not really a banker, he’s a mathematician who works in a bank. At least that’s his position at the start of the book. A few chapters in and he’s very much a banker.
Maybe though he always was, because he very much enjoys the lifestyle of a banker, such as having a posh flat, and money.
It was not always thus. Serge grew up in a commune, a large house in The North (where the climate appears to have been predominantly soot and lentils) where, along with his sister and adopted sister, he and a few other kids were raised by a group of adults who wanted to start a revolution but never got past the planning committee stages.
Serge has abandoned his PhD to work in a bank, where he models risk. His sister is a schoolteacher who thinks he is still at university, as does his mother. Serge is trying to simultaneously make a pile and woo his colleague so he can use the former to run away with the latter. All Serge has to do is be cleverer than the market. And the real world events that affect the market. And whoever at the bank seems to be on to him. And the police, who don’t like insider trading. And his employers, who would fire him if he was found trading at all. All this and the guy is supposed to be a genius at determining risk.
Serge’s story of high finance, sharp suits and smartphone share deals conducted in the disabled loo at work is interspersed with his sister’s daily travails teaching schoolkids in Doncaster. This is about as much fun as it sounds and is obviously the sort of career that should be undertaken by anyone who considers it to be a vocation and who is therefore ‘worthy’ to the point of irritating.
Not as irritating as Serge’s mother though, a genuine counterculture relic. Her story and the establishment of the anti-establishment commune is told in flashback, interspersed with a plot thread about her fight to keep the local allotments from being developed into housing. This is her last struggle, the last act of a rebel and, despite the global forces at play that have demonised the banks and demonstrated that rampant capitalism really has brought the world, or at least the bit of the world that is well populated with Starbucks, to the brink, this is the one that really matters.
‘Various Pets Alive and Dead’ is entertaining stuff. Serge’s attempts to keep his life in a London bank a secret from his family is reasonable entertaining, if a little unbelievable in the age of smartphones, messaging and constant communication. Possibly the family are all still operating in an age where trust took the place of constant communication and friends and families weren’t expected to notify each other and the world every time then had a fleeting thought of passable bowel movement. And it does set up the funniest passage in the book, or maybe I just like vulgarity.
As a counterpoint of Serge’s naivety, the object of his desire comes from one of those Eastern countries that now typically consist of endless grime streaked concrete buildings and toppled statues of blokes who cultivated inferiority complexes, despotism and impressive moustaches in equal measure. She knows all about communism and wants to give rampant capitalism a chance.
With more plots than are up for grabs on the allotments, past, present and future come together in a reasonably pleasing resolution that proves that money only makes you happy if you like being rich, but it really can’t buy you love. ( )
  macnabbs | Oct 8, 2014 |
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Set half in Doncaster, half in London, this is a very funny riff on modern values, featuring hamsters, cockroaches, poodles, a chicken and multiplying rabbits, told by Marina Lewycka in her unique and brilliant combination of irony, farce and wit.

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1905490917, 1905490550, 0141044942

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