A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
As well (obviously) as the title, I love the premise of this curious and farcical dystopian novel. As a disastrous consequence of banning hunts, foxes are over-running British towns and cities. As well as getting so much out of control that they’re actually taking the meat off barbecues, they carry a virus fatal to humans, and the Prime Minister is importing an apparent vaccine that actually delivers a mass-surveillance system at cellular level so he can keep the restless British population under observation. It’s smart, plausible and fascinatingly possible, with great potential for a frightening thriller, but is divided from the beginning.
The fox depredation plot with its attendant hunting set of characters is too Jilly Cooper to be more than a rather ridiculous joke, and loses moral ground to the scary injection plot. This is more serious, wrapped around a persecuted Christian sect, a thrilling escape from mainland China in Cold War circumstances, and the chilling prospect of mass surveillance through mass vaccination. Both plotlines could work together with some careful nuancing but the over-large cast of characters and their proliferating subplots weigh the whole thing down unevenly. Fox lurches madly from one point of view to another, leaving the reader scrabbling for tonal connections. The strands of plots do come together in a satisfying way, so I have no problem with Gardner’s plotting skills: I just wish he had cut the cast by half and spent more time with those characters.
Many of the characters seem rather self-indulgent, easily read as supporting a dyspeptic vision of what is going to go wrong with Britain if things carry on as they are now. These range from the grim to the simply silly. Hunts and their foxhounds will be brought into the cities to keep the fox population down. The Chinese will take shocking advantage of our desperate Prime Minister. Council officers will begin to wield draconian powers over the innocent population. A chat room for alpaca enthusiasts is a front for a radical animal liberation movement dedicated to releasing the grizzlies. The Archbishop of Canterbury will have his luggage eaten by vixens. Puddings will be made under duress in an inexplicable episode with a raving Chinese caterer. It is too rich a mix to digest, making this cake way too over-egged. But for inventiveness and a clever vision of a future that may be nearer than we think, Gardner delivers good value.
Anthony Gardner, Fox (Aedleevan Press, 2015), ISBN 978-0-9933680-4-2, £17.99 hb