THE OLD MEN AT THE ZOO by Angus Wilson


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The title- the year- 1970- and the theme here, the loss of freedom in a totalitarian world, may suggest Orwell parallels, but while Wilson's novel is a fable, it is too close to the times to encourage an allegorical assumption and it is above all a satire with a corrective intent. Wilson's ""old men at the zoo"", and particularly its director, playing his own game of politics while ignoring the far more dangerous situation and ""apocalyptic talk"" which faces an England threatened by totalitarianism, typify the old guard-conservative- Chamberlain attitudes of the last decades, just as Simon Carter, the zoo's only younger official and the narrator here, represents the new generation whose convictions end in compromise. Again and again Carter's good intentions- to take some sort of aggressive action- are mired by acquiescence: he plans an investigation of the unnecessary death of a zoo attendant; he is an aware, and therefore guilty, collaborator in the conversion of the Zoo to an outdoor Reserve which, while liberating the animals (this motif- human versus ""avine"" freedom is dominant) creates a further war scare; and finally when the long threatened annihilation by the Uni-European forces becomes an actuality, and London a beleaguered city, Carter devotes himself to the survival of the zoo at the expense of more important issues- and his marriage....Over and above the broader view of a discordant humanity, there is some brilliant writing here which concentrates on the infighting in this small group of small-minded scientists, their ridiculous jealousies, ambitions and loyalties. While it moves away again from the common ground and popular approachability of The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot, some of the new audience acquired by that book may remain to admire the seriousness of his satiric purpose. While it is never softened by warmth, it is sharpened by malice.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1961
Publisher: Viking