Some sections of my novel, Water & Glass, are from the perspective of a woolly rat called Molloy. This might sound a bit crazy, but from very early on in the drafting of the book, I wanted to challenge myself to write from an animal’s point of view.
The novel is set on a kind of contemporary (or future) ark, and the main protagonist, Nerissa Crane, is a vet who is caring for a clutch of animals saved from worldwide floods. I chose this creature after watching a documentary on an expedition to Mount Bosavi in Papua New Guinea that discovered this new species back in 2009. The woolly rat is huge, almost dog-like, and knows no fear of humans. It reminded of the ill-fated Dodo.
In the novel, the woolly rat is the last of an endangered species who escapes. He’s got a camera attached to him—a kind of GoPro, as he was part of a survey—so he provides a rat’s eye view of the Baleen, the vessel on which some of the story is set.
This approach allowed me to give the reader a view of the service-pipes and in-between spaces of the ship, places no human protagonist could venture. Molloy sees, hears, smells, and records things no human character can. So the reader is given privileged access to an onboard conspiracy. But this insight is fragmentary and, of course, being a rat, Malloy cannot interpret what his senses pick up so he is the most unreliable of narrators.
This writerly challenge also called for me to create a language for Molloy—a slightly off-kilter, poetic voice that contrasts with the rest of the narrative. His escape is also crucial to the plot as Nerissa’s search for Molloy leads her to explore the ship and its new community and uncover a shocking conspiracy. Finally, the idea that Molloy’s camera is recording this partial view of history appealed to me—will anyone in the future ever view it? The reader gets to, for sure.
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Abi Curtis is Professor of Creative Writing at York St. John University and is an award-winning poet. In 2004, she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. Her first poetry collection, Unexpected Weather, was published after winning the Crashaw Poetry Prize in 2008, and in 2013, Curtis received a Somerset Maugham Award for her second poetry collection, The Glass Delusion. Water & Glass is her first novel