Lured by the cover and the possibility of another tale personifying an animal, I started The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. As I read through Benjamin Hale’s Dickensonian beginning chapters, I admired the intellectual tone of the chimpanzee who was dictating his memoir.
Bruno Littlemore, a chimpanzee chosen from the local zoo for his potential intelligence, and the subject of scientists trying to study and teach language and communication, recalls his life in first person – from savage chimp to man-like existence to murderer. As he recounts his experiences, Bruno takes on more and more human characteristics and it’s easy to forget he is not human.
I was lulled into the philosophical observations of a chimp, who sometimes observed more than his observers. His relationship with Lydia Littlemore, the university primatologist who nurtures his passion for painting, and finally removes him from the lab to her home, seemed to echo other stories of animal study. Bruno’s voice was erudite, but not stuffy; his story was absurd but very readable.
Then it happened - and I had to stop reading. Could a chimp rape its caregiver? Where was this story going? Did I really want to know? I went to the reviews for help.
The New York Times review spoke of the allusions and audacity of Hale’s book – with references to Lolita and forbidden erotica. Another reviewer refers to Bruno Littlemore’s Lineage, referencing John Collier’s The Monkey Wife, a 1931 comic spoof that has the monkey smarter than her human husband.
Finally, the LA Times included the spoiler I was seeking and filled me in on what was to come. I did not go back to the book.
I did skip to the last chapter to see who he murdered; it was not Lydia. And the message was clear – sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the animals from the humans.