Though first published in 1945, George Orwell’s allegorical Animal Farm has never not been politically relevant—a dystopian book that has sparked so much debate and controversy that is it still banned in some countries to this day. Our September Book of the Month — Beasts of England — is Adam Biles’s worthy sequel to this modern classic, a contemporary political satire told in Orwell’s style of anthropomorphic animals and their unstable political structures. Named after the anarchic song from Animal Farm that was originally meant to rouse spirits and encourage change for equality, the title reminds us that though the heading of the anthem seems to remain the same, the lyrics are subtly replaced verse by verse throughout the narrative, until it becomes not a song of liberty but one of authoritarianism, conformity and discipline.
No longer a working farm, Manor Farm has become “The South of England’s Premium Petting Zoo.” The animals no longer toil and labour the days away as their ancestors did, but instead have become spectacles for paying visitors to stroke, ride and gawk at. With a car park, gift shop and information centre, this refined tourist attraction relies on the mysterious workings of the windmill. None of the animals seem to know how the windmill works, but nevertheless understand its integral importance to Manor Farm. Governed under what appears to be a democratic rule, each year the animals cast their voting walnuts at the annual ‘Choozin’ in front of the Council of Animals to decide on who will be ‘First Beast.’ It appears that the animals of Manor Farm have achieved what previous generations strived for – a life driven not by work but by pleasure and equality. Yet, most of them cannot remember the full verse of ‘Beasts of England’ anymore, or the original motto of the farm, and no-one is sure of who led the Great Rebellion all those years ago. It is an entirely new generation of animals doomed to make the same mistakes as the previous ones, always glorifying the past but not actually learning from it.
With underlying corruption and greed, rigged elections and manipulative leaders, it becomes clear to the reader that it doesn’t matter whether the newly elected First Beast is an ‘Animalist’ or a ‘Jonesist’ – a pig is still a pig, and the First Beast has never been anything else. The rules are constantly tweaked and made up to keep power under the guise of sly phrasing and false praise, and the animals become disillusioned by the constant updating of policies and principles as their memories become increasingly falsified. It becomes an etymological chaos, so much so that even the reader cannot tell if the narrative is referring to pears and apples, or apples and pears. With a sudden invasion of interfering starlings who relentlessly spread rumours and gossip, the unforeseen stopping of the windmill and a strange but deadly illness spreading to the animals, it becomes clear to the reader that the welfare of the farm is not at the heart of the Council’s actions. Clandestine actions of the elite and their promises of a bright future (that would forever remain in the future) harm the masses they dictate it to, the spread of their lies as fatal as the mysterious disease itself, choking the truth from being revealed.
There are only a few animals who have a will to question the totalitarian order and uncover the truth. Yet the curiosity of Martha, the only Brent goose, the investigations of the donkey Cassie into her missing father, and the hunches of Duke, an ostracised gander, throw them in the path of danger as they edge closer to uncovering terrifying secrets.
The use of satire through the allegorical animals highlights the absurd and shallow nature of the reality that stands out in the novel, as serious issues are completely ignored, or used as scapegoats by the ruling party to remove blame from the true culprit. With clear allusions to our contemporary political state of affairs and current issues, Biles masterfully twists Orwell’s microcosmic farm into a darkly warped parable for the present day, and for future generations for many years to come.
“A timely and worthy successor to Animal Farm.”The Observer
“In Beasts of England, Adam Biles has updated and retooled Animal Farm for today, and in this clever, resourceful and at times painful novel, the risk pays off.”The Guardian
“In its portrait of maximal duplicity, Beasts of England is as much of our time as Animal Farm was of its.”New Statesman
“Impressive… Fun… Orwell is one of the great writers of fear, but where Animal Farm works by suggestion… Biles’s novel puts everything on show, and in doing so stops the reader several times through its sheer brutality.”The Telegraph
Beasts of England is published by Galley Beggar Press
9781913111458 | PB | £10.99 | 14th September 2023