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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
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

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?