It's Every Monkey for Themselves - Vanessa Woods

It's Every Monkey for Themselves is Vanessa Woods' warts and all story of her year spent in the Cielo Forest in Costa Rica researching behavioural ecology of Capuchin monkeys. Focusing primarily on the upright primates that inhabit the "monkey house", rather than the those in the wild, the book abounds with plenty of adult-themed content and comes across as something like what the 1990's TV series Melrose Place might've been, had it been set in the jungle. 

Having blagged her way into a film-making job with Disney Channel, Woods heads to Costa Rica with hopes of forgetting about her boyfriend with whom she has just recently broken up with, by throwing herself into a research project on Capuchin monkeys. On arrival at the monkey house, she quickly comes to realise that surviving the myriad of horrors in the jungle such as killer bees, scorpions, poisonous snakes and infectious parasites will be nothing next to surviving 12 months in close proximity with her fellow co-workers.

It's Every Monkey for Themselves introduces us to three main groups  of Capuchin monkeys and the residents within each group, who have great names such as Havoc, Angel, Murder, Carnage and Mayhem. To most of us, the Capuchin monkey is instantly recognisable as Ross's monkey, Marcel, out of Friends, or the evil ghost monkey out of Pirates of the Cairibbean, and so named due to their resemblance to the Capuchin monks with their dark hoods.

Before long, we are fully engaged with the monkeys as they go about their daily lives, which mostly consists of eating, pooping, grooming and having sex. The humans of monkey house pretty much do the same thing, and with sleep walking house-mates, associates who are male prostitutes trafficking in narcotics and psychotic booze-fuelled parties, the antics of the murderous monkeys themselves, by comparison, look positively tame.

The book provides a reasonable insight into the drudgery and difficult conditions that the research group are subjected to. Rising at 4.30am to work 14 hour days with only 5 days scheduled off at the end of each month illustrates just how demanding this research work is. Woods obvious passion for animals and the wildlife is extremely apparent, as evidenced also by her previous stints in far flung places such as Uganda when counting chimpanzees, Kenya while undertaking a zebra census and Antarctica filming penguins.

Predominantly though, It's Every Monkey for Themselves is a book about the friendships, jealousies, love interests, bitching and in-fighting that takes place amongst the co-workers. Working under the conditions that they do, it is easy to see how extreme enmities and close bonds are forged and the book doesn't hold back in baring everything that goes on.

No one is safe from Woods' pen, including herself, and she comes across as extremely shallow and mostly concerned with how beautiful she is whilst also being convinced that all the male members of the household want to have sex with her.  Her constant scheming, lying and manipulating makes it hard to warm to her, which unfortunately detracts from her overall writing which actually is of good quality. The fact, also, that the story takes place in Costa Rica is somewhat irrelevant as apart from the odd Spanish phrase thrown in, you would never have known.

It's Every Monkey for Themselves, reminds me in parts as a revved and R-rated version of Laurie Gough's book, Kite Strings of the Southern Cross, and in the end there is too much Mills and Boon (the x-rated version) and not enough Daniel Boone for this to have wide appeal for those looking for a good travel story.

3 stars out of 5

Credit: Banner photo by lukegwald