FAUNA: Hartley’s Dystopian Reality
Fauna is a collection of short stories published by David Hartley over the course of several years. Each exploring relationships between animals and humans. Animals have been used throughout popular culture to represent human traits and flaws, with one of the most famous examples being George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Hartley draws upon this trope in an absurdist fashion, creating both queries and allegorical answers to some of the questions that keep us up at night. This clearly references Hartley’s background as an outspoken vegan influenced by prominent science fiction authors J.G. Ballard and Iain M. Banks. His attitude towards the rights of animals and the imagination of science, bordering on magic, runs through the stories.
Hartley weaves humour into his dystopian, haunting narratives. This is highlighted in Broadcast of the Foxes, as our narrator states the awful things that are happening to his children interposed with lamentations about missing Great British Bake Off and Line of Duty. It is these bizarre juxtapositions that throw our relationship with the creatures of the earth into a sharp focus – is it crazier to be haunted by a fox than it is to hunt one for sport? Within A Panda Appeared In Our Street, Hartley also questions our relationship with animals in captivity. The majority of the residents of our narrator’s street recognise the panda skewered on the railing, but don’t see it as deserving of, or truly being alive. By making our narrator Jon seem slightly crazy through his retelling of events, Hartley highlights how odd it is that those who see animals as real and alive, and not just toys without feelings, are in the sad minority.
A particularly poignant story in the face of recent post-lockdown news is A Place To Dump Guinea Pigs. It connotes the recent surge in pet rescue shelter return rates as people lose interest in the pets they adopted during our months spent indoors alone. Our narrator is Charon, Ferryman of the River Styx (although with a newly minted Yorkshire accent). He informs us that he no longer has any work to do, as the dead just seemed to stop coming down to the Underworld, hypothesizing that perhaps Zeus has granted humanity immortality. However, the first person he sees in centuries is a man in a hoodie and jeans, carrying a bag of guinea pigs that he’s fed up with and wants to dump in the River Styx. When reading, it is impossible not to be reminded of our own throwaway culture. Hartley highlights the outreaching negative effects of this when, once the deed is done and the guinea pigs are at the bottom of the river in a weighted bag, he drops the man off on the wrong side of the Styx and leaves him in the Underworld.
The deliberate ambiguity and lack of worldbuilding within Hartley’s stories lends itself to the absurd, dystopian themes which he addresses. In Shooting an Elephant, we follow a man who pays to participate repeatedly in a simulated elephant hunt. Are we to naturally assume that there are no real elephants left to hunt because of men like him? Is this, therefore, their only option to pursue their sport, or is this part of a conservation effort to halt the extinction of a species? Hartley’s considered vagueness throughout guides the reader to challenge systemically ingrained ideologies. By asking questions that may not be answered by Hartley within this book, the reader is encouraged to defy what they may consider normal within our reality. Fauna is a strong introduction to Hartley’s work, and the focus on shorter stories enables him to explore many disparate themes and weave a cohesive world from them. He touches on significant issues that pervade modern society, including hunting for sport and our impact on global warming and animal populations. By doing so, Hartley questions our relationships with both our environment and each other. It is easy to imagine the relative insanity of this collection of stories as parts of a greater whole, and this is Fauna’s true excellence.
Words by Eloise Cowen
Fauna is out on September 10th 2021, published by Fly On The Wall Press
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