Forget pigs and carthorses and bring on the Big Beasts, because Animal Farm has been reimagined. This time it’s the creatures in the zoo that have decided to take back control. And instead of a parable about the evils of communism, the fable is the life of Margaret Thatcher.
It is 2010 and Baroness Thatcher (a lappet-faced vulture) is losing it. And so she is an unreliable narrator: grand, uncompromising, deluded. But before she drops off her perch, it’s time to set the record straight. What turned a grocer’s daughter from Grantham into the most powerful woman in the world? What put all that infamous iron into her soul?
And it’s also time to take a satirical swipe at other, more recent Prime Ministers. Who is the battle-scarred rhino caught in the glare of the spotlights? And why does he agree with Nick? What animal is David Cameron? And why would Lady Thatcher want to inspect some organ that has been inserted into the mouth of a pig?
The idea is irresistible, the execution brilliant.
David Brewerton (Financial Journalist of the Year)
Love her or loath her, there’s no escaping the Iron Lady’s iconic status as the architect of modern Britain. Rich or poor? Remain or Leave? This is still a divided nation.
Yet as Orwell’s biographer, D J Taylor, has pointed out
If social historians are just beginning to get to grips with the grocer’s daughter from Grantham (then) novelists still lag far behind.
The Iron Bird sets out to redress this imbalance. Of course, it isn’t the first time that Thatcher has appeared in the pages of fiction – she danced into Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, she toddled into a short story by Hilary Mantel – but she has never been the protagonist before. Isn’t it about time that she gave herself a good preen, sharpened the gutting blade on the tip of her beak and stepped up to take on the leading role in a novel?
Disrespectful? Perhaps. But despite a generous coat of irreverent humour, this isn’t an exercise in malice. On the contrary, as Richard T Kelly recently observed
…all fiction begins in empathy, and a politician is a complex human creature, just like you and me.
Even one that has been transformed into a bird of prey.
Although The Iron Bird is available in paperback, perhaps the ebook has the edge, because it contains a series of links allowing you to explore the allegory. Some of these lead to secret pages, hidden deep in the coding of this site. Others reach out across the internet and curate its content. Each has been chosen to add something meaningful to the reading experience. And sometimes raise a smile.
For example, in one episode in the novel, Baroness Thatcher is under the delusion that Cameron intends to offer her a role in his Cabinet – a chance to finish the ‘great work’ she started. “Yes, that’s right, dear,” she says, struggling to suppress her excitement, “The Mummy Returns.” This is the link:
What a wonderful book. I was immediately drawn into the characters — Bel imperia grabbed me and held on so tightly … it’s her voice that stays with me the most. It’s so evocative, not just of Mrs Thatcher, but of the idea of her, of how, maybe, she saw herself. I think it’s rare to be able to do something like that so well.
Thatcher’s ghost still haunts us, but this outrageously entertaining novel performs the valuable service of confining her to a zoo … the experience proves both revealing and hilarious – sometimes devastatingly so.
An amazing read… Woodshaw’s imagination in full flight is original and startling. Well written, and ‘laugh out loud’ funny.
This is an amazing, rambunctious, high-energy romp through the life of (wait for it) Margaret Thatcher in the guise of a Rabelaisian satire. Think Animal Farm as written by Bill Hicks! … furious intensity and daring. All political novels should be so brave and so committed.
Who am I? Well, I was brought up in Bristol, and I studied English and Drama at the University of London – an experience that led to a brief career in casting, and credits on several films, including Wonderland (1999) and 24 Hour Party People (2002). That said, come the mid 2000s, I realised I could no longer ignore an idea I’d been nurturing for a novel about Margaret Thatcher, so I retreated to a small town in the foothills of the Italian Alps, took up a teaching position at a local secondary school, and put pen to paper. I still divide my time between the UK and Italy, where I have an Italian civil partner and a pigeon-infested restoration project. The Iron Bird is my first novel.
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Last night @blackwelloxford was so much fun and such a delight to meet two incredibly gifted, lovely authors. Thank you so much @LucyAnneHolmes and @robertwoodshaw for a really entertaining evening of #sexandpolitics @unbounders and thanks to all who came pic.twitter.com/wPvIeiNdcK— James Orton (@philoxophy) March 2, 2019
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