“An Eschatological Bestiary admits to different foci. Recording descriptions of natural history and popular accounts of climate change and inequality, its faunal composition offers symbolic visions, modern protest, and a complete exegetical interpretation of the dramatic rise of an apparently semi-permanent moral blank.”
The above is an excerpt from the introduction, which explains what Hardwick intends to do in his collection. If the reader is lost at this point, there is no need to worry: An Eschatological Bestiary makes as much, and as little, sense as Finnegans Wake. To call it clever is an understatement. Is it too clever for its own good? … Maybe?
The collection is very much like the author in its diversity: Oz Hardwick is a professor at Leeds Trinity University, a folk musician, photographer, reviewer and musical journalist. It therefore comes as no surprise that Bestiary is a bonanza of references, allusions and relatively obscure allegories. Comprehension is not aided by erudite diction: even the title does not readily give up its meaning. Eschatological refers to the concept of the end of time; a bestiary is an illustrated handbook of animals. In the Middle Ages, the natural history of each animal in such books was usually also accompanied by a moral lesson.
Hardwick’s Bestiary is a pastiche of the medieval bestiary, subverting human archetypes rather than attempting to moralise. For instance: “As Ape, lacking snares, still mimics the divine, so must man set out nooses and play at draughts.” The most immediate way this can be understood is that the archetype of the Ape lacks the technology or the knowledge to become divine. Humans on the other hand need only wait, since they do have that technology, and so pass the time playing checkers. Alternatively, Ape’s endeavours to ascend to a higher plane are futile, just as humans’ efforts to “catch divinity” are in vain. The game of draughts, then, would be representative of wasting time. It is however important to keep in mind “different foci”: it would not do justice to the collection’s textual semantics to limit oneself to only one interpretation.
The density of the collection might be considered too smart to be easily accessible. However, the author manages to mitigate this by his handling of language. At times, the writing is lyrical; at times, it plays with the reader’s expectations of continuity. For example, “So sweetly does a huge shop window frame the most beautiful Siren that the sexualized artifice ruthlessly keeps from tending towards deliberate or deceptive secular folklore.” Shop window frame on its own would refer to the actual frame of a shop window if the following object referred to the frame. However, frame is a verb in this case because the window frames the Siren. The grammatical structure prevents skimming over the text because the sentence does not meet the expectations of the reader. At the same time, Hardwick achieves an audible flow because of alliteration and consonance. One way to put it is that the form races forwards while the content pulls you back.
The collection is a fusion, or indeed confusion, in the best possible manner, of genres, ideas and techniques. Most are satirical, many refer to the end of time, and all are expertly crafted. It is not necessarily agreeable to read since An Eschatological Bestiary is likely an acquired taste; indeed, without multiple readings, some people might consider it “too clever for its own good”. Arguably, the only thing it lacks is a foothold – but to expect one would be a mistake. The title invites those people who enjoy dense writing: for them, the Bestiary will prove a veritable treasure trove.