Review: Pod by Laline Paull

If you loved Paull’s The Bees, you’ll probably love this one too. It’s not an easy read, for a couple of reasons.  One is that, like The Bees, you have to really get into the mindset of the ocean creatures in this book. There’s a fair amount of unfamiliar terminology, sometimes related to the biological functioning of fish, dolphins and whales, and sometimes, it’s just that the way the characters in the book perceive the world is very different from ours. 

Another thing that made this a tough read is that it gets pretty dark at times. Ea is a spinner dolphin from the Longi tribe. When she becomes separated from her pod, she’s kidnapped and forced into the harem of wives in the Tursiops megapod. As a warning, there is rape in this book. As with The Bees, Paull makes you think about the perspective of both animals and humans, as of course we don’t perceive animal sexual behavior in the same way as humans.

Pod is written beautifully (and that cover!), and those who care about ocean creatures and reading about nature will love this book. Paull explores not only the dynamics between many different types of sea creatures, she also emphasizes the powerful impact of man on nature, as the characters experience toxic substances in the water and noises that are physically painful to their sensors. 

It’s slow to get into, and the one thing that detracted from this book was that the narrative perspective switched frequently. There’s a Rorqual whale who sings a sad, troubling song. There’s Devi, the head wife in the Tursiops pod. There’s Google, a dolphin who has only lived in a marine laboratory, drugged on fentanyl, until his tank breaks apart and he’s forced into the wild. There’s a wrasse who loses his entire community in a storm. And there’s a remora, a parasite who attaches itself to Ea.

Google was my favorite character because his life in captivity feels so tragic, and he’s forced to undergo so much change. A military lab is the only life he’s ever known, and his only attachment is to his human handler and his daily dose of drugs. Yet he prides himself on the “work” he does in the lab. When he’s badly hurt and forced into the wild, he sees everything with new eyes and has to learn to connect with other sea life.

Ea is a bit difficult to like at first; she lives a good life in her pod as a young dolphin but struggles to fit in because she doesn’t hear the sounds of the ocean the way the other dolphins do. As she undergoes terrible challenges during this book, she grows as an individual and as a leader.

While I found this book slow at first, and difficult to follow at times, I definitely appreciated the beautiful writing and the extensive research, and it became more compelling once I got into the main story. By the end I really connected with the characters and also felt like I learned a lot, which is something I always like in a book. I strongly recommend this to anyone who loved The Bees or those who like reading about animals and the environment. This book was just named to this year’s Women’s Prize longlist and it’s a worthy inclusion.

This book was a perfect fit for my Gaia Nature Reading challenge, and it also fits with the March mini-challenge for the 52 Book Club (to read a book from an animal’s perspective.

Note: I received an advanced review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from publisher Pegasus Books. This book was published February 7, 2023.

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