Animal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ah, at last, a classic book which still deserves its place in the canon of great literature!
If you’re a regular reader of my reviewers you’ll know I’m close to despairing over the books which are considered ‘must-reads’ long after their authors are dead. Books like ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles‘, ‘Lord Jim’ and even ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ leave me cold or even outraged that they’re held in such high esteem. I almost wonder if the previous generation were starved of any real literature to read ‘back then’.
Then along comes Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ – which I re-read to bring myself back up to speed as some of my English students are studying this book for their examinations. I read it last when I was their age and have taught about it many times over the last twenty years without actually picking the book back up. I feared the death of another much-beloved literary hero from my youth, but I was wrong, I’m very pleased to say.
Orwell’s short allegorical novel about the Russian Revolution and aftermath is still very well known even by those who have never read the book. The tale of Napoleon, Snowball and the other animals on the farm who rise up, kick out Farmer Jones and run their own collective seems to resonate even though the Soviet Union is now a thing of the past and no young person today bar the history student has a clue what the Cold War was all about. Why this should be, I don’t know. Perhaps because the book continues on the list of those to be studied in schools? In which case – long may that continue!
‘Animal Farm’ is a truly intelligent book. Orwell’s cleverness drips from the pages and it feels, at times, as though you’re sharing a private joke with him against those reading the story who have no idea what it is really all about. Even if you do, you can spend hours trying to work out which parts are invented for plot purposes and which actually took place; or even who is real. Napoleon is Stalin and Snowball Trotsky: fair enough. But the Old Major? Some say Marx, others Lenin, still others (I am one of them) an amalgamation of the two. Then there’s Boxer and Squealer and Clover and… Many times, I was tempted to reach for my phone to check out details and see if I could figure out what person a character was or what event really took place. Orwell cleverly mixes it all up and entertains all the way. You can feel the twinkle in his eye as he narrates.
The style of the book is very much of its day. Mid-40s writing akin to Tolkien or C.S. Lewis’ novels. But whereas those books do feel a little dated (especially CSL’s works) somehow Orwell still feels fresh. I think this is because he knows he’s not actually writing a children’s book but is parodying the style while also openly criticising soviet policies. There is a secret intention in this book which is, paradoxically, clear and open to all. Such is Orwell’s genius. The result is super little book which titillates yet also makes you think -and deeply so.
My last review of Mary Beard’s SPQR resulted in a fascinating, but mild, bit of trolling from someone on Twitter who said ” Stop press. Man reviews superior woman’s book ” The tweet made me laugh though I suspect that was not the intention of the guy who wrote it. It did make me ponder over how people react when you write something they don’t like. Sometimes their behaviour is truly bewildering. It also made me think about the notion of superiority. In my mind there is no such thing. No one is superior to me and no one is inferior either, be that man, woman or child. I find it very difficult to see anyone’s justification for believing in the superiority of anyone at all; even in jest. But over the years holding such a view has got me in trouble. I recall teachers being annoyed with me when I wouldn’t break off conversations with students when the teachers would demand my attention. Their view was that students can wait. My view was no they can’t and why should they?
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Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine.