Albert of Adelaide, the debut novel by Howard L. Anderson, surprised me in the same way that Fantastic Mr. Fox surprised me in the theater. It’s adult entertainment in the guise of something created by Beatrix Potter — a bedtime story where animals talk and wear clothes, but where they also concoct schemes, shoot guns and get themselves into dangerous outlaw situations. And honestly, to quote Mrs. Fox, there’s something kind of fantastic about that.
I was perhaps more surprised, however, that the publishing industry took this book under its wing. Editors and agents always say that they’re looking for something unique and different, and they mean it, but usually in a slight-twist-on-something-known sort of way, something they can still market to a particular audience. Albert of Adelaide, however, is one of those cross-genre beauties that everyone tends to love but on which no one wants to risk financial investment. Is it YA? Or maybe a children’s book that parents can enjoy too! Or straight-up adult summer reading for everyone who loved Charlotte’s Web when they were kids? It really could be any of those things.
Albert, a zoo platypus clinging to a few strands of childhood memories by the pond, breaks free and sets off across the desert to find the utopian Old Australia, where animals exist as they did at the beginning, before humans got involved. Along the way, he finds himself in complex situations with other animals who blame him because he’s different (not a marsupial) or leave him alone him because they’re in awe of him (protected by snakes). All the while, Albert simply wants to find a place to swim in peace, but with wanted posters at every outpost town and a growing reputation as a danger to society, this seems unlikely.
The story was refreshing. Most top-shelf fiction right now comprises epic fantasy, post-apocalyptic YA, or multi-POV literary novels that ignore chronological narration. So while I can imagine that many publishers may have snuck away like Bertram the wallaby when it came to putting money on Albert’s future, I’m very glad that this unique tale found a home at Twelve Books, a Hachette imprint that publishes only 12 books each year, “by authors who have a unique perspective and compelling authority. Works that explain our culture; that illuminate, inspire, provoke, and entertain.”
Despite its fairly simple prose and no apparent underlying political statements, Albert of Adelaide lives up to Twelve’s mission. It tackles questions a bit more local: about our prejudices, our habits, and our search to find a place to belong. Albert is infamous for burning down a town when he actually just got drunk and passed out. He’s accused of butchering a group of kangaroos when in fact, they had crossed into dingo country and were eaten, as they should have expected, by the dingoes. When the time comes, Albert must choose to live up to this criminal fiction or pave his own path. Throughout the tale, I wondered along with Albert if there is an Old Australia, or if animals are so affected by society with its guns, alcohol, false propaganda, and even clothing, that the place called Hell where Albert finds himself is all that’s left of the legendary land.
For an interview with the Author, who among other things says that the story originated from a bedtime story he once told a 5-year-old, checkout Booktopia Blog: http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2012/06/25/howard-l-anderson-author-of-albert-of-adelaide-answers-ten-terrifying-questions/