This petsit book review draws on the mysterious and powerful link between reading and travelling and indeed housesitting. It’s not just about filling the hours of a long journey or being occupied in periods of waiting. A good book takes your mind to someplace new, into something unfamiliar, as much as travel does to the physical body. A good book will never let you down when there is no wifi connection, when you are alone, or when all you need is to sink quietly into your own imagination. A gripping story can illuminate a foreign situation like nothing else. All of this makes a book the ideal travel companion for a house or pet-sitter. For the bibliophiles among us, I have compiled a varied list of books and we have begun a HouseSitMatch Book Review as a regular post to share them with you.
Petsit & human-animal relationships for well-being
All cultures throughout history have recognised the importance of animals and caring for animals. The enduring relationships formed with them are perhaps why we humans, as animals ourselves, have been so successful for so long. They have allowed us to not only survive in the world, but to flourish in all kinds of environments. This can’t be explained by simply thinking about how useful they are to us, about how they just provide food and transport, for example. We must also think about our vital emotional connection to the animal kingdom to understand our own humanity.
This is what Marlen Haushofer has set out to do in her novel ‘The Wall.’ Set in the remote wilderness of the Austrian mountains, this story expresses the deep bonds of trust that develop between a solitary narrator and her animal companions, who must fight together for survival. Whilst visiting her friend’s hunting lodge, she finds one day that the area is suddenly enclosed by an invisible wall which no living thing can penetrate. Life has stopped completely on the other side of the wall – seemingly frozen in time. The world outside becomes an abandoned set for a movie no one will ever watch. The narrator might be the last human left alive within the mysterious wall. This book is her diary.
Yet, she is not alone. Joining her in isolation is the resident dog, a cat, and a cow which provides the nourishing milk which helps them survive – a perverse petsit of sorts. The dog, a happy Bavarian bloodhound called Lynx, proves to be a great friend to the narrator and a bright ray of optimism in the harsh landscape. The way that the author describes him gives a fascinating, yet familiar, insight into the psychology of dogs. Bella, the cow, also becomes a key figure, representing the enduring ability of life to be tender, nurturing and peaceful against all odds. Animals are highly symbolic in this novel; Haushofer has given the reader a wealth of opportunities to interpret the bonds between human and non-human.
Haushofer’s petsit – A fulfilled life means caring for another being
Since there is no one else to interact with, Haushofer has been able to delve into the pure, uninterrupted relationships between her narrator and the animals, perhaps a model petsit. The non-human survivors become complex and memorable characters, which is an impressive achievement considering that the plot and setting seems so limited. Yet it is through this simplicity that the true essence of human and animal interaction can be examined. The sinister wall provides a surprising opportunity for intimacy of this kind. With the Austrian mountain landscape serving as a dramatic backdrop, so too is the fundamental link between humans and the vast natural world explored in astonishing depth.
The reader, as with the narrator, forms powerful emotional bonds with the animals through the everyday routines of caring for them. Of course this preserves their lives, though caring means much more than this. Without the luxuries and distractions of her old life, the narrator discovers that it is the act of caring which gives life purpose. When the world is stripped down to it’s most basic natural form, we realise that responsibility and the care of other living things mean more than anything else. Why else would the narrator work so hard to plant seeds, harvest food, hunt, and find shelter? Survival means nothing as only an individual.
An unusual housesit…
This book is, in a sense, about a housesit at the end of the world. Much of what takes place is tragic, though the author guides the reader forward with beautifully written moments of affection and understanding about animals and the natural world. It is a reflection on humanity’s place among other living things, free from the complex and selfish lifestyles that many humans have unfortunately made for themselves. The appeal here for housesitters is quite clear. The housesitter knows that animal care is not only a highly satisfying thing in itself, but vital for mental well-being. Anyone who owns a pet knows this too. ‘The Wall’ is an intense example of the same kind of knowledge that makes housesitting such a valuable activity – a demonstration of respect, trust and stewardship that unfortunately seems to be lacking in the modern world. An apocalypse is one extreme way of getting back to this raw need to care for another life. But housesitting is far more convenient.
Petsit book review: stand out quote
“Maybe people are more deserving of pity, because they have just enough intelligence to resist the natural course of things. It has made them wicked and desperate, and not very loveable. All the same, life could have been lived differently. There is no impulse more rational than love. It makes life more bearable for the lover and the loved one. We should have recognised this was our only chance, our only hope for a better life. For an endless army of the dead, mankind’s only chance has vanished forever.”
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