Author Playlists

Claire Fuller’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Memory of Animals”

“…instead of my writing playlist, here’s a list of the music I think the main characters in my latest novel might listen to.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Claire Fuller’s The Memory of Animals is a pandemic novel as moving as it is haunting, a masterpiece from a masterful writer.

Lydia Yuknavitch wrote of the book:

“Between wanting to do the right thing and the vortex of mistakes from the past there is a real place, one woven from danger and desire. Claire Fuller’s riveting novel, The Memory of Animals, creates a world within a world where a young woman marine biologist faces off with a global pandemic and the hopes for a vaccine by diving into her own past. She might retrieve some fragment that could secure self-preservation as well as―if not humanity, then at least the human heart.”

In her own words, here is Claire Fuller’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Memory of Animals:

The Memory of Animals is the only one of the five novels I’ve written where I didn’t listen to a playlist while I wrote. Nothing. Our Endless Numbered Days was Iron and Wine, Swimming Lessons was Townes Van Zandt, Bitter Orange was Leonard Cohen, and Unsettled Ground was (mostly) Henry Ayling. But with The Memory of Animals: silence. I don’t know why; I tried a few pieces of music, a few musicians but nothing stuck. And it’s not because I’ve given up on writing to music, because book number six is underway and I’m happily listening to something while I write.

So, instead of my writing playlist, here’s a list of the music I think the main characters in my latest novel might listen to.   

In The Memory of Animals, Neffy a 27-year-old marine biologist volunteers for a vaccine trial during the early days of a pandemic (no, not that one). She’s in isolation in a hospital room in a clinic in London when she has an extreme reaction to the vaccine and the virus and wakes up several days later to discover that the world has turned without her, the virus has mutated and all the doctors and nurses in the clinic have left, leaving only four other volunteers – strangers. She must work out what they’re hiding, while the reader gradually learns what Neffy herself is holding back.


Études: No. 6 by Philip Glass played by Víkingur Ólafsson, from the album Philip Glass: Piano Works

Neffy is a serious and sensitive young woman, sometimes anxious, except that she will often do the opposite of what people advise her just because she doesn’t like to be told. She’s dedicated to her work and to her family and she loves the island of Paxos in Greece, where her father lives, swimming in the sea, and most of all octopuses. I imagine this piece of music as something that sums up Neffy’s feelings when she wakes: her anxiety of the unknown.


Amy Winehouse – Back to Black

Yahiko is not adverse to heartbreak, melodrama, and oddly – since he’s on a medical trial – hypochondria. He’s gay and single, and while his parents and twin brothers visit Japan he remains behind to work out what he should be doing with his life. When the pandemic breaks out, in order to please his mother and to have something to do, he signs up for the trial. Yahiko worries about the limited amount of food in the clinic and tries to persuade Neffy to go outside and find them some more. Through a need for security he surrounds himself with all the material things – from books to towels and alcohol – that the people who have fled the unit have left behind, until his room becomes a towering collection of random objects.


Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Felt To Be Free

There’s very little music in The Memory of Animals. None of the volunteers have downloaded any to their phones. And of course there’s no Wi-Fi or internet. But Leon has a secret skill: he can play the mouth trumpet. He plays jazz for Rachel when they’re alone, and again at a birthday party they hold for her. Neffy and Leon have a conversation about freedom and he sings her a snippet of this Nina Simone son: I Wish I Knew How it Felt to be Free.


Pharell Williams – Happy

Like Yahiko, Rachel has a tendency to melodrama but equally can be empathetic and offer words of wisdom to her fellow volunteers. She’s not well-educated or well-read, preferring (and missing) social media. On the surface Rachel appears simple, childlike, but she has deeper reasons for volunteering for the drug trial, and troubles in her family life which she’s hiding from. But Rachel, I think, likes to party, and I can see her dancing to Happy by Pharell Williams. Who could resist?


The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil

Piper is the self-appointed leader of the group of remaining volunteers, someone who believes that they should stick it out in the clinic until they’re rescued. She puts herself in charge of the food, and makes a plan for what the future should look like, but her rules cause friction in the group. She can be rigid and officious, but I like the idea that she has a darker and wilder side, not just from the choice of The Rolling Stones, but from the title of this track.

Claire Fuller is the author most recently of The Memory of Animals (Tin House) as well as Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize; Swimming Lessons; Bitter Orange; and Unsettled Ground, which won the Costa Novel Award and was a finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband.

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