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on October 2, 2012
I was excited about this. Working on a paper for a literature class and wanting to include animal studies, I thought this would be the perfect book. I was hoping for a more general overview of animals in literature. What I got was a variety of chapters, disconnected, written in an overly-academic and convoluted manner, that addressed books and some movies that are old but not necessarily classic (do you remember the mystery series featuring a blind detective and his seeing-eye dog, and its later, TV-series counterpart? No? Neither do I). McHugh writes in a manner that appears to strive for intersectionality but instead winds up making her arguments, if you can find them in all that writing, kind of pointless. In the chapter on National Velvet, she spends a great deal of time talking about how girls and horses are perceived, and includes a fair amount of indignation that women have routinely been ignored as jockeys, jump jockeys, and in hunts. She goes from what seems to be animal advocate to ignoring the cruelty of hunting and racing (and neglects altogether the hunted animals: hares, does, foxes). Unless she wrote a sentence or two about it and I fell asleep during that bit.

Furthermore, her use of language is excruciating. She uses the word "bitch" like it's going out of style; one feels she's almost using it in a defensive manner as if to say "I know this word is frowned on, but it IS the technical, proper term for a female dog." However, in her chapter on "Babe," she writes: "...the last line of the film - 'That'll do, pig,' spoken by Hoggett to Babe - resounds with threats and promises. However gently or affectionately Hoggett delivers the line, it is an order; and 'pig' although zoologically correct as a generic term of address for this particular animal, also bears pejorative and female-sex-specific connotations, suggesting that Babe's feminine coding legitimates a possible restoration of the human order of dominance" (p. 197). Now, I'm not sure how many of us know that "pig" refers specifically to female-gendered animals, but most of us know that "bitch" does. "Bitch" is not an easy word to reclaim, and it is often pejorative, and always refers to the female. After McHugh argues about the last line of "Babe," I'm not sure how she can make any good case for her overuse of the word "bitch," particularly as she doesn't explain why she chooses to continually use this word.

She also uses the word "fiction" or "fictions" to describe stories, books, narratives to such a degree that it becomes distracting; I began counting how many times I came across the word used that way (which also suggests how deathly boring the book is). I don't have my notes with me but it was something verging on 90 times in 219 pages.

To be somewhat fair, I think she makes a few interesting and valid points, but they are drowned out by the dense writing, the repeated use of words like "bitch" and "fictions," and the inconsistency with which writes about animal rights vs. women's rights.
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