Animal Farm by George Orwell

ImageThe problem with George Orwell’s Animal Farm is simple enough to explain.

In my mind is that Orwell sat, scribbling at his desk and chuckling at how remarkably clever he thought he was being. Now, this is the second time I have read Animal Farm since the spritely age of fourteen, and I recall that back then I thought it was ‘okay.’ Looking back at it I am pretty certain it is terrible. Now, rather than mindlessly berating Orwell for the next four hundred words, I am going to see if I can explain exactly what it is I dislike here. Orwell has evidently aimed to write a satire, an allegory of the rise of the Soviet State. However, through the child like setting and colourful talking animal characters the book is filled with Orwell manages to turn communism farcical. This presumably was his objective. It doesn’t make it a good book though. Orwell’s narrative is naïve and basic, and although he is clearly aiming to mock with the book, it comes across as mocking itself – which is a real pull on credibility. Yes I know, talking animals, who can somehow write and build windmills is hardly the events one would expect at a regular farm – but by no means should this manifest as a lack of credibility. The Wind in the Willows is a perfect example – The three primary characters are essentially country gentlemen as much as they are talking animals, and yet the writing somehow makes everything plausible. Orwell it seems was too busy mocking to take any care over his characters, who end up as lifeless as the bacon they should become if the nondescript ‘Mr Jones’ had actually managed to keep hold of his farm.

I suppose the book does have some good points though. Though I wouldn’t readily give it to a child, it is worth reading for a younger teenager, purely as the allegory would likely play to their sense of humour – whereas to an adult it seems puerile. Also there is a clever subversion of the animals from the pigs, who play on the animals’ naivety to create the oft quoted paradox ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ But where this may be clever in terms of superiority of certain characters – the obvious dramatic irony is lost at the realistic dramatic irony the reader feels when reading it. Throughout the novella I couldn’t side with the animals as they were portrayed not as animals but rather as mentally challenged humans – this unhealthy comparison lowers the tone of what would be a clever allegory – reducing it to no more than a cheap joke.

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Watership Down by Richard Adams

9780141341934Watership Down was originally told during car journeys to Stratford-upon-Avon, his audience were his wife and two daughters. Of course, Watership Down automatically triggers certain reactions in people, but I am hoping that these should be dispelled by reading the novel itself. Art Garfunkel ringing in my ears I began on a for hundred and seventy five page journey with Hazel-rah: the lapine protagonist and chief rabbit of what will become the Watership Down warren. It is difficult to critique a character of a rabbit, but Adam’s immersive writing sometimes leaves you forgetting you are actually reading about rabbits. Silflay, hraka, inlé are among some of the rabbit language words (and are some of the easiest to pronounce, in opposition to El-ahrairah and Thethunninang). The inclusion of this insight into the rabbit tongue draws you in fantastically. The rabbits develop their own words for their own use and our human perspective needs to understand these words to feel included in their society. The characters seem almost human in quality, and ironically, the humans in the novel are portrayed as uncouth and clumsy.

This is where Adams’ skill shines through. The story is wonderfully crafted, involving the extremely complex systems of rabbit politics, the thrill of the constant danger the rabbits find themselves in all add to the immersion in the rabbit universe. The book is of course the sort of book which forces you to hate humanity. Yes, we can imagine people we know as the builders who at the offset destroy an entire warren with gas. No, it doesn’t feel great. But in terms of its eco-centric writing, it is a real eye opener with a clean moral compass and a good message to tell. The rabbit is a creature with a thousand enemies – man is portrayed as one, killing because he can rather than for survival.

Watership Down is published by Puffin, the children’s literature sector of Penguin. But I have to ask, is the book which is full of graphic and gory descriptions of violence, complicated political situations including shapshots of communism and fascism, difficult and very advanced language (both in style and vocabulary) and each chapter being headed with quotations from works of literature, including some  from Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Robert Browning and Thomas Hardy, really a children’s book? It is difficult to place it, but is the fact that it is a classic animal story so much that these situations count for the stuff we give to children? If Hazel was an eight year old girl and was shot and wounded, attacked by a cat, almost drowned in multiple rivers and forced to go to war with her neighbouring community would it be okay? Certainly not, but somehow animal stories can get away with this. Truth be told, Watership Down is terrifying. The film is even more so. But I would regardless recommend it. However, to be brutally honest, I would have to recommend it to an adult reader, or at least a child with a very strong stomach. Watership down is far from the cute animal story which is probably expected from it, and in my opinion, this is the greatest strength of the book.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is probably better known for his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, but that is hardly a suggestion that his debut from 2003 should be overlooked. He is perhaps not the most likely of novelists; being as he is a Californian MD. Therefore, you could expect a non-committal novel, quickly brushed out as a hobby before he is paged back to the hospital. But this is certainly not the case. Perhaps Hosseini is not the most committed novelist, but this is not at all reflected in his careful and attentive style.

His style is akin to Booker of Bookers Salman Rushdie – perhaps due to the post-colonial subject matter, but particularly the self-deprocation of his protagonist, Amir. Both novels reminisce of a ‘time before’ and coincidentally both start prior to a major political upheaval. Rushdie opts for Indian independence, Hossieni for the military coup which ended Afghanistan’s monarchy. Both are therefore entwined in political instability, leading to, as well as all else a well thought out lesson foreign political history.

Hosseini’s painfully realistic plot follows twenty-six years of his protagonist’s life from a twelve year old kite fighter living in a well off end of Kabul with his gruff but likable father ‘Baba’ and two Hazara servants, Ali and his son, Hassan; and ends with a very different Amir, a professional novelist and insomniac living in California with his wife. It feels throughout the novel that Hosseini sees a lot of himself in Amir, their lives follow a remarkably similar geographical journey and this very much lends itself to a thoroughly believable character. For the most part, I wanted to punch Amir, but then immediately apologise and fetch him an ice pack. The book takes these turns constantly. It makes you hate Amir, almost as much as he hates himself – which pulls you onto his side so much that you genuinely feel panic during the latter half of the book, where Amir’s past seems to be falling apart around him. Apart from Amir, Hassan is certainly one of the most interesting characters in the novel, and is of course, the title character. For me the tragedy of his life is far worse for the protagonist than it is for him, an interesting development, particularly seeing as Hassan spends the majority of the narrative across the other side of the globe from Amir.

Hosseini is a master of emotion and a master of political narrative, and as neither of these aspects feel in any way forced, the novel brings with it a harrowing quality. He tackles exceedingly controversial pieces, all with the intention of giving Amir the hatred he craves throughout the novel.

The Kite Runner is one of the most moving and honest tales I have read; a true piece of literary genius. Will it move you to tears? Certainly. Will it create a sense of pain at the realism in the writing? Definitely. Would I recommend it to you? Yes, a thousand times over.

Welcome!

Okay, yes, Alexicon is slightly cliched… but yes, my name is Alex. I am a writer and literature student, and I tend to have opinions on books. I’m not the sort of person who can read a book and not have an opinion on it. It’s the same with films, restaurants, TV Shows, shops floor plans… Okay, I also enjoy a good tangent. But I will try and keep my reviews to 300 words give or take.

Anyway, I really feel like instead of just having an opinion on something, I should write these opinions down, they might come in useful one day, after all.

So that’s what I am doing! Welcome to my book blog. I’m not the fastest of readers mind, so I can’t promise regular updates, but what I can promise is variety. I will try a bit of anything as long as I feel it’s worth reading. Onto the first post!