Randy penguins and revolutionary crows

Helen Stevenson follows the aftermath of a zoo rebellion in a striking political satire; Animal Planet by Scott Bradfield Picador, pounds 14.99

Animal Planet is such a weird novel that the thought occurs that a whole anarchic web has been embroidered around a single one-liner which Scott Bradfield thought up earlier, and promised himself to work into a novel one day. The joke appears on page 84, and involves a penguin who is trying to stop a pair of eager female hands from ripping off his vest: "Take off your white vest before I tear it off. Jesus, that's not my vest. That's my me!"

It's the novel as charades. You take a wacky one liner, extrapolate a crazy scenario and from there the delirium flows. How about a novel starring a libidinous but touching penguin, sidekick to a revolutionary crow called Charlie? The revolutionary crow could incite an animal revolution. The revolution could start in London zoo, then spread all over the world, then get hijacked by a Wildebeest called Scaramangus (Scary for short), who is dumb but populist, and sells out in the end, so that the animals finish up securing the kind of equality with humans that lets them become sales reps and production managers. The only power they acquire is purchasing power. All of a sudden this isn't just a crazy animal joke. It's a political satire.

Whatever it might look and sound like, Animal Planet is not a novel about animal rights. After the abortive London Zoo break-out the animals are auctioned off to local businessmen and community leaders: "You can't expect the public to keep on paying your bills forever, can you?" Scaramangus is shipped off to become a living corporate logo for an insurance company. Wanda the Gorilla goes to clean for a media couple on the Upper East side. The animals in this book are not really animals, they are a new underclass eager to participate in global society. They talk and wear clothes and drive cars and clean apartments.. This is a long way from Charlie the Crow's original dream of the animals living in a "self-sustaining, self governing, self determining community."

Animal Planet is full of set-pieces of satirical brilliance, strung onto a thread of high quality, hyper-alert writing that never lets up for a moment: "Before civilisation we never had time to realise how much we didn't have. Now we have all the time in the world to worry about what we'll never keep." "History began to blur. It stopped being something that happened and turned into something they couldn't quite remember."

. You could care about some of the characters, who are never muffled under the weight of all they represent, but I can't help feeling there's always something static about satire. However fantastic, it is dealing with problems which have already arisen, and the terms of whose solution are not the subject of invention so much as of the novelist's weary identification. We know what kind of world we have made, and we know the cynic who lays it before us is never going to do much more than tell us how dumb we are to have got into this mess.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Graduate Java / C++ Developer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Graduate Java / C++ ...

    Programme Manager - Business Support Transformation, 1 year contract

    £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Walthamstow...

    ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

    Demandware Developer

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client is...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor