‘One Red Blood’: Multi-species Belonging in Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book


  • Liz Shek-Noble University of Tokyo


Alexis Wright, animals, disability, multi-species belonging, climate change


Non-human animals feature prominently in Alexis Wright's novel, The Swan Book. In addition to the avian creatures of the novel's title, The Swan Book includes representations of fish, owls, mynas, brolgas, rats, cats, dogs, and snakes. Building on previous scholarship into the novel's focus on non-human species, this article explores the centrality of multi-species being and interconnectedness within an Indigenous cosmological framework. The Swan Book demonstrates the pivotal role of non-human animals in communicating the ancestral stories and historical knowledge of Aboriginal nations. As a result, an Indigenous worldview centred on the notion of Country is presented as a potential solution to current environmental challenges in our world. The article also draws attention to the muteness of Oblivia, the central character of Wright's novel. Employing concepts from disability studies and critical animal studies, the article finds that Oblivia's muteness demonstrates the interlocking discourses of racism, ableism, and anthropocentrism at work in Western colonialism. As a result, the character's muteness indicates how the category of ‘animal’ has been discursively employed to justify the dual exclusion of Indigenous and disabled people from the category of the human. Oblivia’s embrace of the black swans and her subsequent refusal to communicate in ways that are normatively acceptable to hearing people is an important reminder for readers to orient themselves ethically to others whose embodiments, minds, and ways of life may be (radically) different from their own.

Author Biography

Liz Shek-Noble, University of Tokyo

Liz Shek-Noble is a Project Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo. Her research areas include literary disability studies, genre fiction, and critical animal studies. Her work has appeared in publications including Genre, the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, and the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. She is currently working on a multi-year project about cultural representations of disability in contemporary Australian literature. She is also co-editing a special issue of the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies on intersections between disability studies and critical animal studies.