the end of the great penguin

The Last of His Own

by Sibyl Grimbert

Anne Carrière, 192 pages, €19

Year 1835: Gus was sent by the Natural History Museum of Lille to study wildlife in Northern Europe. Off the coast of Iceland, he witnesses, from his boat, the massacre of a colony of great auks by local fishermen. In a few minutes, no specimen moved, except one, floating not far from the boat. Gus brings him on board, puts him in a cage, and begins to observe him. His gestures are without particular affect, it’s his job. He had hoped to be able to observe a great auk but had imagined it stuffed rather than alive. This catch is a godsend that he intends to make fruitful.

Feeding this injured and furious survivor is no small feat. Install him at home, in the Orkney Islands, in the north of Scotland, either. Gus intends to take notes, contribute to the progress of science. However, the attitude of the penguin, who has finally accepted the food, surprises him. His cleaning lady assures him that the bird ” cry “ when he is away. Gus begins to contemplate the loneliness of this new companion. He names him Prosp. Therefore the relationship can exist. Gus pulls Prosp out of the cage, keeping him tied up, but walks him on the beach, bathes with him. And of course, a link is woven between these two originals. Much research one day leads Gus to consider that Prosp may be the last of his kind. From then on, his responsibility, his attachment to the animal, changes in nature. A form of sadness and urgency feeds their daily lives. Which lasts well beyond Gus’s move to the Faroe Islands and his marriage.

return the pet

It was not easy to describe the link between man and animal without falling either into sentimentality or into anthropomorphism. At no time does the author attribute human behavior to the animal. She is content to make it familiar to us, the reader as well as to Gus and the family he is building little by little. “In the morning, Gus would wake up pasty, his legs still a little stiff. One day, Prosp, exasperated by this slowness, bit his calf. Gus wondered if that was a kind gesture, to shake him up, or the nasty translation of his annoyance. He did not decide the question. » The man and the animal remain in otherness without this slowing down the empathy that we can feel for one as for the other.

By Sibyl Grimbert, The Last of His Own is the twelfth novel. Familiar with intimate and melancholic chronicles, as well as the renewal of forms (her first novel, Birthday Dayspublished in 2000, was for example a fantastic tale), the author opted for the genre of the adventure novel to address issues that are still contemporary.

Through this singular story, she questions us about our responsibility vis-à-vis the living, we who find ourselves today faced with the threat of major extinctions of large mammals. She moves us through this mute yet eloquent relationship. Prosp is one of those poetic characters that will not be easy to forget.

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