Where to start with Fever of Animals? The narrator of Miles Allinson’s début novel is hardly certain where to begin his story. Throughout this curious book, the difficulties of composition are paramount. ‘And what is this book I am supposed to be writing? Am I even writing a book or am I fooling myself, as I fooled myself so many times in the past, when I pretended for such a long time to be a painter, for instance?’ To answer these questions, Fever of Animals impersonates a memoir, a diary, and an almost conventional Bildungsroman about an ardent young Australian abroad.
A former artist named Miles is the narrator of most of Fever of Animals. Occasionally, he is absorbed into a third-person narrative, as if swallowed by the story he is trying to tell. He is writing a book about a long-dead Romanian surrealist painter named Emil Bafdescu – but that story summons a sheaf of other stories.
Another beginning to Fever of Animals is a painting by Bafdescu that hangs in a Melbourne restaurant that is yoked to Miles’s memory of his late father. We begin again with the narrator’s university years in Melbourne and with the blossoming and decline of his relationship with a woman named Alice. We follow this antipodean cosmopolitan on his travels in Europe and South America, and we stay with him as the desire to glean information about Bafdescu (so that he can start the book) emerges as a guiding imperative.