In a country house in England a precocious teenage exile from revolutionary Russia sets down his adventures on paper, beginning with his first ball in St Petersburg and how he frees a huge African elephant from a cruel circus. A hundred years later, an American academic begins receiving the manuscript from an anonymous sender, one chapter at a time, and seeks to uncover the truth behind the boy’s extraordinary life.
Elephant is about Pushkin’s idea of unselfish and redemptive love, personified as an elephant. It is about shifting our ideas away from ourselves and seeing the world again through the prism of all creation, if we want to survive.
“What Elephant provides to the reader is a gloriously absorbing story about storytelling, as rich in suspense and vitality as it is in incidents and images that dare you to disbelieve them. An ice-bound Russian lake is filled with the frozen bodies of neatly dressed office girls. A zeppelin appears above Wentworth Woodhouse, equipped with a harnessed undercarriage that can carry a full-grown Indian elephant away from imminent danger.”
Miranda Seymour, Financial Times
“At the centre of Pickering’s meticulously researched narrative is the gigantic female elephant, a metaphor for lost innocence and uncorrupted simplicity the fast-industrialising capitalist world feels apprehensive of. Alexei’s dream about ‘the river of dark fire’ is actually an echo of Schopenhauer’s account of ‘the anarchic, artistic Wille, the raw power behind creation’. The elephant, as Natasha fails to convince the émigrés, ‘is a counter to the inhumanity of our digital age.”
Bhaskar Roy, Outlook Magazine
“Such an original and beguiling story. It is, like the best fiction, simultaneously so precise and particular, while yet resonating with so many contemporary universals… An intensely readable and stirring novel.”
“Elephant leaps across all boundaries of imagination – historical, humanist and humour. Unputdownable. A winner.”
Balraj Khanna, novelist