We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

There are two basic types of animal in Nature’s Kingdom. The first, like lions and turtles, produce many offspring and simply hope that some will survive. The second, like elephants and people, produce one or two at long intervals and make great efforts to rear them. My mother belonged in a class of her own. She produced two at short intervals and made no effort to rear them whatsoever.

Thus Dorothy, aged ten, finds herself making her own way in Sassaspaneck, New York in 1968. Her English father, who never talks above a whisper due to a youthful injury with a cricket ball, has tucked her and her mother away where the potential for embarrassment can be limited. All the other children in town have gone to camp, so Dorothy must provide her own entertainment. She comes across a small, faded zoo on the outskirts of town, and as she begins to get to know the eccentric group of women who live there she begins to discover a world way beyond the one she has glimpsed so far.


An eccentric cast of characters, human and animal, features in this first novel for adults by comic actress Toksvig. When eleven-year-old tomboy Dorothy Kane moves with her upper-class English parents to the small town of Sassaspaneck, New York, the result is bewilderment on every side. The Kanes are a family of "partial communicators", physically remote and emotionally vague: "I suppose a lot of people have never seen their father naked; I had never seen mine without a tie." Confronted with a 1960s America shaken by a war in Vietnam, by campaigns for civil rights and women's liberation, Dorothy's parents retreat into crisis, leaving her to pick her own, troubled way through the last, crucial summer of her childhood.
She receives help and inspiration from an unlikely source: a trio of women who live on the edge of town in a dilapidated zoo. Gradually she uncovers details of the zoo's flamboyant and tragic history, its origins in passion and extravagant wealth, the sec
Whistling for the Elephants is a gently comic novel about transformation and the getting of wisdom; about finding the ways to make being a girl "just fine"; and about relearning from the animal kingdom those lessons of love and fidelity that human beings
Sarah Waters, AMAZON.CO.UK