Good writers read, or at least that’s what everyone tells me.
As a kid, I used to follow that quote, reading anything and everything, participating in MS Readathons, borrowing all of Animorphs from the library (naturally out of order). I loved Enid Blyton, despite only having read Tales of Betsy-May and Bimbo and Topsy, adored everything by Roald Dahl, was utterly obsessed with Harry Potter, and heading to the local library with my mother (also an avid bookworm) religiously from roughly the age of eight was an awesome, magical time.
At the end of last year, I set myself the goal of reading more. I hoped it would inspire me to write, to try and get back to writing as regularly as I did pre-university. In 2010 alone, while in Year 12, I wrote an absolutely awful vampire YA novel; two half-completed pieces that were partly the inspiration for Reunion ’92; a 6,000 word short story about two brothers reuniting 16 years after their mother’s mysterious murder; I finished a YA novel from 2009 set in the universe of my short story Maelstrom—so much writing. So what do the top authors and the top Twitter drones tell me? They tell me to read more.
I started with the goal of reading one book a month, something that was only hindered by my book for September, Nabokov’s Lolita. Lucky, my book for November, is a more interesting read, despite being #8 in a bloated series.
The last book I finished was Animal Farm by the one and only George Orwell. After having read Nineteen Eighty-Four in approximately 2012, I thought it was time to read his other classic. I’d bought the book on a spree in Dymocks (the Australian Barnes & Noble), but I decided it was finally time to see if Animal Farm is worth the hype:
Animal Farm, available here, is the 1945 novel by Eric Arthur Blair, writing under his more famous pseudonym George Orwell. To put the plot generally, it is an allegory of communism in the USSR/Russia, detailing the history of the Bolsheviks from the 1910s to the 1940s, with animals in a farmhouse playing the parts instead of people.
It starts off rather simply, with the farm animals living a relatively content life under the rule of the authoritarian Mr Jones, until one day, the ailing Old Major tells the other animals about their “predicament”, they should not be pleased living under the cruel rule of Mr Jones, who treats them all badly, and they should revolt. After his death, two of the pigs, Snowball and Napoleon decide to put his plan into fruition, kicking Mr Jones, his wife and men out, and renaming the farm from Manor Farm to Animal Farm. From there, the new Animalism regime, which begins peacefully, takes a rather nasty turn, especially the relationship between the two revolters, Snowball and Napoleon. What happens next generally sticks true to the events of Soviet Russia, apart from the cruel, bloody deaths.
The quote in Animal Farm that sticks out for me is the primary commandment for Animalism, which morphs from one about equality into a bastardisation of its former glory:
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others
The interesting thing about this line is, it doesn’t simply apply to Animalism, or even communism for that matter. That’s probably the most important thing about Animal Farm. While everyone and his mother and the kitchen sink is quoting Nineteen Eighty-Four to show how the modern era is evil and Technology is the Devil, I think that’s ridiculous. A corrupt government is not 1984. PC Gone Mad isn’t 1984. 2015 isn’t 1984! Plenty of things are wrong with modern society, but to compare it to a dystopian classic about communism is utterly naive.
However, I think to compare small parts of society to Animal Farm is another matter altogether. This is the novel everyone forgets about. The aforementioned quote rings true more than ever; so many people want equality, but only for their own small, indistinct, assholey group of people.
But enough politics, more review! The great thing about Animal Farm is it’s a time-worn story, and while it’s about communism, you can compare it to basically anything without it feeling outdated. Left-wingers, right-wingers, radfems, MRAs, Tumblrians, Redditors, Socialism, communism, democracy—everything, if the bad people are left unchecked, it can create what happens in Animal Farm. That’s the truly horrifying thing. Anyone can be a Napoleon, he appears friendly enough at the start, and do a 180 degree turn.
There are problems with Animal Farm, of course. It feels like yet another rehashing of Orwell’s hatred of the Soviets, and his message sounds rather preachy—though not nearly preachy as the also-excellent Fahrenheit 451. Anyone who is not comfortable with analysing books, and cannot see a book can have a political message, probably won’t comprehend the point of this book. Plenty of people think it’s a book about how animals are dumb little idiots who need humans to control them, and that’s it. Hey, that’s fine! We all interpret things in different ways.
The writing can sometimes appear dry and dull, but that’s par for the course for a journalist-cum-writer. Ever read John Wyndham or Ian Fleming? Same stuff. The most likeable characters are barely mentioned (Benjamin the donkey). The main problem for me is it doesn’t feel like it has a proper ending, but considering Orwell died before the fall of communism in Russia, it kind of makes sense. Also, that’s the point. What if a dictatorship never ended? Plenty haven’t. That’s the dark, horrifying truth this “satire” presents. Although it did feel like it just stopped. Everything’s happening, Napoleon’s assumed authority over everyone, he’s basically indistinguishable from the original oppressors (Mr Jones and co), and then bam it ends.
But I suppose not everything is perfect. No one piece ever deserves a perfect 10/10 review, because everyone sees things in a different way. My favourite book, Muriel Barberry’s Elegance of the Hedgehog, has one star reviews galore.
Did I enjoy Animal Farm? Yes. Would I read it again? Probably not. It’s one of those literary novels, much like To Kill a Mockingbird, that you only really read once.