Deb Olin Unferth

Barn 8

One disaffected administrator, one disenchanted teenager, four hundred and twenty-one vegan extremists, sixty trucks, and nine hundred thousand grumpy layer hens awaiting liberation. In barns. Six barns. No, wait, seven. No, wait …

Two auditors for the US egg industry conceive a plot to liberate an entire egg farm’s worth of animals, with catastrophic results. This wildly inventive but utterly plausible novel about a heist of a very unusual kind swirls with a rich array of voices: a farmer’s daughter, hundreds of activists, a forest ranger who stumbles upon forty thousand hens, and a security guard abandoned for years on a farm. We glimpse the evolution of chickens twenty thousand years from now. We hear what hens think happens when they die.

And at the heart of this more-than-plucky novel lies the question: what constitutes meaningful action in a world so in need of change? With towering ingenuity, eviscerating wit, and unflappable passion, Barn 8 is a true rare breed, a comic-political drama, and a tour de force for our time.


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Print status: Available
Original language: English
Format: B-Format Paperback
Publication date: 9 April 2020
ISBN: 9781911508885
Ebook ISBN: 9781911508892
Availability: UK & C (excl Canada) and non-exclusive Europe.
Number of pages: 304


Jenny Offill

‘Deb Olin Unferth's hilarious genius is on dazzling display in this novel. Come for the brilliant insights about our faltering civilization. Stay for the revolutionaries and the chickens. You are really really going to love these chickens . . .’

Dana Spiotta

'Barn 8 is a novel like no other: An urgent moral fantasia, a post-human parable, a tender portrait of animal dignity and genius.'

Baya Simons
Financial Times

‘Full of grit, humour and tenderness.’  

Sandra Newman
The Guardian Book of the Day

‘Aesthetically perfect and philosophically profound . . . the chicken-related writing is a force unto itself.’    

Anthony Cummins
The Observer

'Written with vim and wit, Barn 8 is a highly enjoyable treatment of a worthwhile social issue.'    

Jakob Hofmann

'Non-chronological and ornithological, it leaps forwards to a charred and toxic future when chickens have outlived mankind, and back to the first fowls who shared the planet with dinosaurs.'

Sarah Gilmartin
Irish Times

‘[Unferth’s] prose is intricate and vibrant . . . Characters are brightly drawn, dialogue is snappy. [Barn 8] reads like a comi-tragic manifesto of our age.’

Claire Allfree
Daily Mail

‘Barn 8 is a slyly effective absurdist comment on a country that consumes a staggering 75 billion eggs a year.’

Nick Major
Herald Scotland

‘A wild and pacey novel [that] also contains complex depths. Unferth is a playful and digressive writer with a keen psychological insight.’

New Internationalist 

‘Utterly absorbing . . . brilliantly executed. A contender for book of the year.’

Rebecca Cook
Literary Review

‘Unferth deftly balances [the horrors of the American egg industry] with a playful tone and a rich lattice of viewpoints and insights . . . she sets out to capture everything, from the life of the individual hen to the churn of the natural world.’  


‘A daring writer of wit, imagination, and conscience, Unferth has transformed her foray into hen hell into an adroitly narrated, fast-paced, yet complexly dimensional novel about emotional and environmental devastation . . . Unferth sharply illuminates the contrariness of human nature, celebrates the evolutionary marvels of chickens, and exposes the horrors of the egg industry . . . [A] vividly provoking and revelatory work of ecofiction spiked with mordant humor and powered by love.’

Kirkus Reviews

‘Ignited by her fiery wit and distinctive voice, Unferth's novel uses one of America's most valuable and overlooked institutions as fertile ground to raise questions around the truths people are fed and the ones they turn a blind eye to. . .Unferth's writing never feels patronizing—more than anything, it's galvanizing. . . If this novel isn't a movement, it has enough heart to start one.’

Publishers Weekly

‘In this outrageous piece of rural noir and pitch-perfect characterization, Unferth recalls Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang with a dose of vegan-minded quirk. This entertaining, satisfying genre turn shows off Unferth’s range, and readers will be delighted by the characters’ earnest crusade.’ 

Zachary Lazar

‘Like Flannery O’Connor, Deb Olin Unferth does things entirely her own way, and that way is impossible to describe. . . This very funny and absurd novel is also as serious as the world.’

R.O. Kwon

‘I leap to read anything Deb Olin Unferth writes, and her latest book, Barn 8, is further proof of her singular talent, her gigantic heart. While Unferth’s characters try to save hens, her miracle of a novel might, in turn, save you.’

Praise for Wait Till you See me Dance

One of The Brooklyn Rail's Best Books of 2017
One of Kirkus Reviews' Best Short Fiction of 2017
One of Electric Literature's 15 Best Short Story Collections of 2017
One of Largehearted Boy's Favorite Short Story Collections of 2017

‘This assemblage of down-and-out moments is delivered with a wit and concision reminiscent of Lydia Davis and Diane Williams, a wry intelligence and keen irony that don’t prevent Unferth’s prose from offering deep emotional intimacy . . . Again and again in these pages, Unferth swerves from the mundane to the extraordinary, from biting to soaringly celebratory, often in a single sentence.’ The New York Times Book Review

'One of the most important voices in fiction’s long-awaited collection of short fiction is a fascinating must-read.' Newsweek

‘[Unferth’s] absurd and tender story collection is full of sentences like clear glass doors, and you, reader, are the bird . . . The way she writes [her characters] is reminiscent of the unsentimental, often absurd, compassion of George Saunders . . . The multiplicity of feeling is wonderful; it’s like she’s swirling all these different colours of paint together but stops while it’s all still just thinly marbled together.’ NPR

'No one can resist Unferth’s masterful distortion of the American dream with a set of unforgettable mistake-makers who aren’t quite past redemption.' Courtney Maum, CNN Travel