by J.M. Ledgard
Giraffe is nothing if not odd. Based on a true story, it tells of the secret slaughter at a Czechoslovakian zoo of the largest captive herd of giraffes in the world. From this horrendous 1975 incident, journalist J.M. Ledgard has produced a narrative that's elegiac in parts, pretentious in others. Relying heavily on metaphor, the first-time novelist delivers an austere condemnation of communism, taking aim, for example, at its ineffectual attempts at social engineering. The giraffes, having been rounded up in Africa, are in a small Czechoslovakian town for a breeding programme to create a new species. Achieving this would place communism on a loftier plane, so when the animals are blighted by a virus, their end is scripted. The novel's main narrators are a haemodynamicist called Emil and a sleepwalking factory worker shocked into opening her eyes by the magnificent beasts. Then there's the giraffe that speaks to readers. In the first chapter it's Snehurka (Snow White), the leader of the pack and the last to die, that relates graphic details of its passage into the world. Ledgard, a foreign correspondent with The Economist, has dared to be different. Unfortunately, not everyone will appreciate his unorthodox ways.