A worthy sequel to Animal Farm?

Published : Feb 22, 2024 01:07 IST - 6 MINS READ

The novel opens on a Manor Farm that has undergone subtle changes: the pigs are still in charge but run things more democratically.

The novel opens on a Manor Farm that has undergone subtle changes: the pigs are still in charge but run things more democratically. | Photo Credit: Carl Glover/ Flickr

In Orwellian fashion, Adam Biles’ Beasts of England highlights the arduous task of protecting democracy, necessitating stiff resistance against those who exploit democratic processes.

The British novelist and essayist George Orwell’s dystopic vision of the future in 1984 still gives us goosebumps with its accuracy. His prophetic insights have ensured that his works are discussed, analysed, and paid homage to even today, more than 70 years after his death. He was in the news all through 2023—the year marking his 120th birth anniversary. Four books on him and his works—two novels and two biographies—came out, proving yet again that he continues to speak to our times. The closing months of the year saw the release of Beasts of England, which carries forward the story of Animal Farm. So far as spin-offs go, this is a fine one, underlining how things have changed and remained the same in the farmyard, which stands for the political world.

Beasts of England
By Adam Biles
Picador India
Pages: 288
Price: Rs.599

Set decades after the events of Animal Farm, Adam Biles’ novel opens on a Manor Farm that has undergone subtle changes: the pigs are still in charge but run things more democratically through the Council of Animals, for which elections are held every year. The results of the latest election (called Choozin) see the pig Buttercup, leader of the incumbent ruling party, Manor Farm Animalists, secure his sixth consecutive victory over the opposing Jonesists led by the pig Ribbons, who has the consolation of having bested fellow party member and intellectually superior Curly in an internal struggle. Animalism (the ideology that the Animalists adhere to) and the Jonesists, are, of course, familiar to us from Orwell’s original.

All seems to be going well. The Farm no longer has to deal with its “enemies” from the first book—the neighbouring farms of Pinchfield and Foxwood—as they are all now part of the European Union-like Wealden Union of Farmers (WUF). The animals’ living standards have considerably improved on account of funds generated from the Farm’s famed windmill. The “petting zoo” lets human visitors interact with the Farm’s residents, who just about tolerate the “uncouth and handsy behaviour” of the sightseers because their current life is much better compared with the physical hardships of their ancestors. Buttercup is universally popular despite five terms as First Beast, mostly because he spares no expense in boosting his popularity—he does this by drawing from the Farm’s coffers.

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Meanwhile, a young Brent goose named Martha, whose job is to report on what the pigs are up to, strikes up a friendship with Cassie the mule at the unveiling of a new mural depicting the history of Manor Farm. Cassie is on a quest to discover who her father is, and Martha advises her to look for more details in the old quarry, which used to be the go-to place for information about the Farm’s history but has now become a giant heap of refuse. What Cassie eventually discovers forms a vital link to Orwell’s tale.


As expected, the good times collapse soon, with economic hardships striking Manor Farm. It becomes clear that Buttercup and his canine acolytes—the bull terriers Dunning and Kreuger—are guilty of mismanaging the Farm’s finances even though they blame the WUF and impose austerity measures. Buttercup’s troubles are compounded by the reappearance of the troublemaking Jonesist pig named Jumbo, who dazzles residents with his eccentricities.

Before Buttercup can even comprehend—let alone arrest—the sharp slide in his popularity, a “scandal” forces him to resign as First Beast, paving the way for his Jonesist rival Ribbons to succeed him. But Ribbons too struggles to right the ship even though he conveniently blames the WUF and his predecessor for the Farm’s persisting troubles. He attempts to clip Jumbo’s wings by appointing him to the tricky, undesirable position of Sanitary Officer just as a mysterious disease threatens to wreak havoc on the animals. But Jumbo trumps him (pun intended) in the most “Trumpist” manner possible—through outright lies, deceit, and treachery.

With weeks to go for the next Choozin and Jumbo in charge as caretaker First Beast, what lies in store for Manor Farm? Will Jumbo’s divisive antics get him the top job? Will Martha and Cassie unravel the truth for everyone to see? And even if they do, will anyone believe them?

“Biles reserves his deepest ire for the human cost of technological progress, which makes sure that the unfortunate sections of society get the short end of the stick.”

As is apparent from the synopsis, Beasts of England calls for some level of familiarity with Orwell’s Animal Farm as well as with world politics in general and with UK politics in particular. It is fun to trace the parallels with British political leaders. For instance, Traviata, who, we are told, was a “formidable sow” as First Beast, is reminiscent of one “Iron Lady”, while Jumbo, the entertaining buffoon who “could drive the animals to mindless self-destruction and still somehow come out as popular as before”, will call to mind a certain straw-haired ex-Prime Minister.

Rings a bell

But the cleverest references are the ones to Brexit: in a particular instance, Jumbo instigates the animals against the WUF by attributing all the Farm’s crises to it and then exhorts them publicly to say whether they “loved” or “hated” the WUF—not unlike one polarising referendum in the recent past. Be it slogans of “take our power back” (the Vote Leave campaign’s “Take back control”) or “dig the moat” (similar to “Build the Wall”, popularised by an orange-haired demagogue across the Atlantic), the real world resemblances are clear, and one can guess the dark consequences that will inevitably follow.

When Old Major first sings “Beasts of England” in Animal Farm, it becomes an anthem for liberation and a song of the quest for a better life. Towards the end of Biles’ novel, the song’s words and messaging have undergone a drastic change, with the animals chanting “Jumbo, Jumbo, Juh-um-bo!” to the tune of the original song. It is clear what Biles is trying to say: across the world, political movements that start off as liberal and progressive tend to get corrupted eventually, and adherents of such ideologies are as much to blame for the rot as their opponents.

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There are also plot points offering commentary on the state of the media in the post-truth world, the impact of social media on public discourse, cancel culture, and the decline of the public intellectual, among other issues. Biles reserves his deepest ire for the human cost of technological progress, which makes sure that the unfortunate sections of society always get the short end of the stick.

Although Biles’ novel concludes on a slightly more hopeful note than Animal Farm, it still reminds one that protecting democracy is an onerous task, requiring active resistance to individuals or entities who often use democratic processes to subvert it. Biles’ portrayal of the pitfalls that await a polity that disregards this is powerful enough to be cautionary.

While comparing a contemporary work to a classic is unfair and futile, Beasts of England is an intelligent, imaginative, and worthy sequel to Orwell’s original.

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