BookBrowse Reviews Night of the Animals by Bill Broun

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Night of the Animals

by Bill Broun

Night of the Animals by Bill Broun X
Night of the Animals by Bill Broun
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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In this imaginative debut, the tale of Noah's Ark is brilliantly recast as a story of fate and family, set in a near-future London.

Debut novelist Bill Broun is a gentle, exquisite literary surgeon. His protagonist, 90-year-old homeless Cuthbert Handley has a manic plan to free all of the animals in the London Zoo. But what about the world around him – and what about his past?

Despite Night of the Animals being written well before Britain's momentous decision to leave the European Union, Broun poignantly causes the reader to wonder if the 2052 England in his novel could actually happen. King Henry IX, formerly known as Prince Harry, rules England darkly after the mysterious deaths of King William and his heirs. Prime ministers have become figureheads, and Parliament does whatever the king commands. Surveillance has become much more rampant, the Beefeaters of Buckingham Palace are now a deadly force, and social media has become enormously invasive, with advertisements, for example, freely flitting across one's corneas.

Also in England – and around the world – are suicide cults, like the return of Heaven's Gate, which have thousands upon thousands of members. They seek not only to kill themselves in pursuit of passage on the Urga-Rampos comet, but animals as well, because they don't want the souls of animals to get preferential treatment. In Los Angeles, Heaven's Gate has done just that; they've killed countless animals before 60,000 to 70,000 members killed themselves. The London Zoo has become the last zoo left on the planet.

Broun does not judge Cuthbert, or his mission, or the shocking state of England and the world. Instead, he quietly peels back layers of Cuthbert's past, revealing madness and hallucinations stemming from a horrifying, viciously abusive childhood at the hands of his father. It was bad enough when it was he and his beloved brother, Drystan, but made worse after Drystan accidentally drowned in a fast-moving tributary while his fractured family and his mystical-minded grandmother visited an ancestral home on his father's side of the family. Between that and his grandmother's insistence that Cuthbert possessed the "Wonderments" – the ability to talk to animals and, most importantly, hear them – his mental state broke down, hastened by his addiction to Flot, which far outshines alcohol in its addictive properties. Now Cuthbert believes that, by breaking into the London Zoo and freeing all the animals, he may save England. Things may change. He might find Drystan. Think of him as a futuristic Don Quixote, but in a worse state of mind. Through his deeply thoughtful and poetic encounters with penguins, jackals, sand cats and others, we get a complex, fascinating gumbo of different myths that each animal group fervently believes, all apparently seen through Cuthbert's vast hallucinations. But in this case, does it matter if it's real or not? Considering the grim, collapsing state of this particular world, it's actually a relief; a dim, yet visible beacon of hope that perhaps society won't totally plunge into darkness.

Night of the Animals is the kind of world you hope will never happen, but it's one to think about, and one that makes you think of the world we actually do live in now. Can we do better than this? Can we get to a place where we can erase these damning possibilities? Can Prince Harry just stay cool? Moreover, it shows us that there can be some beauty in a dark world, and that is its greatest gift.

Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

This review was originally published in September 2016, and has been updated for the April 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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