Book Review | Pascale Petit – The Zoo Father 

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Sitting by Chapel Arts, Bath, reading poetry under the (not so Tuscan) sun.

With the upcoming summer event organised by Bath Spa University’s MA Creative Writing course, most of us creative writing lot have to read (or was advised to read) the books by authors who will teach our chosen groups. For mine, I chose a different, completely different, group as my choice. I chose poetry – I needed the change and plus, it’s always nice to appreciate poetry from time to time, when you’ve been constantly writing prose for more than half a year!

So, I’ve been reading Pascale Petit poetry collection. First starting with Fauverie, then The Zoo Father (published in 2002), and many other collections once I borrow more from the university’s library. 

Strawberries bought from a farmer’s stall are always nicer!

Reflecting on yesterday’s poetry reading while I eat my strawberry granola with banana, and yes, strawberries (I had a valid excuse: there weren’t enough strawberries in the granola itself!) this morning, I’ve realised how intense the collection, The Zoo Father by Pascale Petit was in comparison to Fauverie. Perhaps the fact this collection was from her early days of poetry writing and how it may have been based on her raw (hatred) emotion towards her abusive father. I won’t lie and will give a fair bit of warning if you intend to read this collection. It’s dark, disturbing and rather haunting for some I would expect. If anyone had gone through an abusive trauma, it’s not a lighthearted read. Read at your own risk (for obvious reasons that I won’t say).

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Despite the intensity of the poems, the language was clear, even beautifully written in a magical realism sort of way. I wasn’t left confused about what Petit was trying to evoke or say rather, about her relationship with her father and mother during her childhood. There were simplistically written poems, some very literal, and others more abstract told in the imagery of animals. (Hence the title, The Zoo Father.) I would go on forth talking about why I think Petit may have chosen the title, but that would be a little “spoilery” which might ruin the magical immersion. 

Since I took the “Writing and the Environment” module for my second term on my masters course, I do appreciate and enjoy how Petit uses the Amazonian jungle environment to describe such a humanistic level of experience when it comes to trauma (during and post-trauma experience). It is commonly known (I hope) that any sort of trauma, whether first-hand or not or small or big, could affect any individual in the long-term of their life. And we see that through Petit’s The Zoo Father – how much she hated her father, how much she had wanted to smother him and how her maniac mother was like as Petit grew into an adult.

My favourite poems below:

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I liked the variety of simplistic and literal poems to the abstracted magical realism poems. The literal poems, from how I perceived it, showed her raw emotions right on the surface without a mask on (see: The Horse Mask). Sometimes even the most simplistic of poems can be the most powerful pieces. Another favourite of mine was My Father’s Body, where her literal description of her fantasising in killing her father… I almost felt the self-centered narrator’s morbid fantasy. I won’t show this poem since I think if you do wish to read this book, it’s a poem that should be read without me having to show it.

Overall, I would give 3.75 stars out of 5 stars on Goodreads, but I had to round it off to 4 stars since good ol’ Goodreads doesn’t half arse their stars. They like things whole, you see. Why the 3.75 rating? Because there were a few poems where I thought were weak in comparison to the stronger pieces in this collection and Fauverie. Not that they were badly written, but they could have been poems with much more potential to it.

I did enjoy this collection and we will continue to see Pascale Petit’s explored reflections into her abusive childhood, portrayed even more deeply in a wild Amazonian jungle that is known as Fauverie.

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