BY ANTONI BELL
Like most people, I have a good friend who happens to be obsessed with anything related to weasels. Pretty much all my knowledge on weasels and weaselly animals (stoats, ferrets, otters, etc) is the result of our long friendship, and study of these often misunderstood animals. We share a passion for writing, so it’s no surprise these two interests directed us to a curious book called The Stoat Rebellion, by Aubrey Fossdale. Such a title brings to mind some whimsical adventure in the English countryside, but the premise is far darker than I expected; Social inequality between stoats (everyday working animals) and the rest of the woodlands society (weasels, voles, hares, and badgers) erupts into a civil war.
The most striking thing about the book is how deadly seriously the subject matter is treated. This isn’t a lighthearted book; it draws a lot of political and social aesthetics from the Vietnam War era, though the action is more in the style of World War Two. There is no hint of parody or even an Orwellian-style political allegory. It uses woodland animals as its characters, and expects the reader to accept that. It reads like a genuine historical account, with a strong focus on the workings of the military, and interviews with various characters woven in between. Despite this sober writing style, the book also features rather rough and at times amusing illustrations.
The setting of the book is from 1965 to 1977 in England, where the animals run their own society and government as a separate entity from humans, almost hearkening back to Kenneth Grahame’s classic Wind in the Willows. The animals are certainly smaller than humans, but use human shotguns as a form of light artillery, run their own air force and navy, wear uniforms, and carry .101 calibre rifles. Since real least weasels would fit in your hand, it’s safe to say that these talking animals are bigger than their real-life counterparts. Much of the story focuses on Section 22, a tough airborne regiment recruited from yard workers and former prisoners.
The book is minutely detailed and well thought out, but there are some oddities. There is a minor subplot about DDT, a harmful chemical insecticide, being sprayed in the countryside and causing a genocidal crisis for the animals. This part of the story was not integrated well with the main plot about the civil war; it was only mentioned briefly throughout the book. Another chapter switches focus to a group of refugees fleeing the war to New York. Whilst interesting as a self-contained snippet, it also seemed to be a distraction from the plot.
Should you read The Stoat Rebellion? If you’ve got a Kindle, it’ll cost you the grand price of a dollar. Enjoyment depends on an interest in history, military accounts, and woodland animals. Overall, I had a good time reading it. However, with such a niche target audience, it’s easy to see why, save a few positive reviews on Amazon, this book remains obscure.
Aubrey Fossdale’s blog: http://thestoatrebellion.wordpress.com
Featured image: The vole pilot, an illustration from Aubrey Fossdale’s The Stoat Rebellion. Image courtesy Aubrey Fossdale