First published back in November of 1988, British author Ian Watson’s novel ‘Meat’ was one of the few horror novels written by the predominantly science fiction writer.

DLS Synopsis:
After nearly running over a wild rabbit which was in the middle of fighting for its life against a ferocious weasel, Diane and Saul Cobbett together with their two sons, Tim & Josh, decide to take the terrified rabbit home with them to ensure its safety and swift recovery.  It was after all, in their nature to help out any injured or distressed animal.  The Cobbett’s are animal lovers, plain and simple.  And very proud of it.

However, when they plan to release the rabbit back into the wild the following day, they notice that the weasel that had attacked it is still in the vicinity…waiting.  After deciding to take the rabbit back home again with them, they put the rabbit in their previous pet’s hutch in the backyard.  But somehow the weasel had followed them all the way to their home.  And before their very eyes, the weasel was attempting to break into the hutch to get to the terrified rabbit once again. 

And again, after bringing the rabbit into the house, Saul is woken in the middle of the night to find the very same weasel in their home, still trying to get at the rescued rabbit that they had since brought inside.  Saul scares the unbelievably persistent weasel out of their house.  But as he looks out into the backyard, he sees that the weasel was not alone.  Outside a small pack of the savage animals are skulking in the gloom of the night.  And when he looks back at the rabbit, he sees that it is now very much dead.

His sanity already on the brink of collapse, he turns to see a mass of weasels on their landing floor.  And that’s when he hears the voice in his head.  A voice telling Saul of the crime he committed.  For he stole from the Archweasel!  The king of all weasels.  And in that moment, in hearing the Archweasel speak to him, Saul Cobbett realises exactly who he must be - that of the Archhuman. 

In the light of the next morning Saul begins to question his own sanity and as such finds starts to feel quite suicidal.  All around him odd things are happening.  He’s sure he’s hallucinating, but there seems to be rhyme or reason to the strange occurrences.  And a run-in with a tramp claiming to be the Weasel King himself just makes matters worse.

Saul decides to join the ranks of the nearby Animal Liberation Front (‘ALF’) in order to fight back against the cruel force that he had uncovered in the quiet rural village of Woodburn.  A force that takes pleasure in devouring innocent creatures.  A force that idolises the delights of slaughtered meat.

But the carnivorous powers at work are growing stronger.  Animals are being slaughtered.  And then a butcher’s meatman figure baring his trusty cleaver is brought to life to commence its own ritual killings.  Saul knows that he must face up to these rampant forces hell-bent on causing suffering.  He just doesn’t know how...

DLS Review:
Despite its delightfully pulp-ish looking cover artwork by illustrator Graham Potts, Watson’s ‘Meat’ is in fact far from the gruesome delights of a chop ‘n’ carve splatterpunk fest that you would more than likely presume it to be.  This is by no means necessarily a bad thing.  It’s just quite a different novel from what one would guess it would be from seeing the cover artwork.  But then, as the wise old saying goes, ‘never judge a book by its cover’.  And how very true here.

Instead, what we have is one of the most bizarre and head-spinningly surreal reads that you’re likely to come across in quite some time.  The premise is as freaky and off-the-wall and it sounds.  Indeed, much of the storyline seems to amble along in a strange hallucinatory daze which never quite pulls the reader in.

The underlying social messages are displayed in absolute abundance throughout the storyline.  However, these aspiring messages aren’t shoved down the reader’s throat, but instead, in a similar fashion to William Kotzwinkle’s ‘Doctor Rat’ (1976), the basic messages that make up the tale are allowed to play a strong principle role without all-out dictating any of the particularly strong views.

Characterisation is pretty flaky throughout the length of the novel.  Although the novel is clearly driven to have a particularly character rich storyline, it’s hard to really get to grips with any of the characters.  Saul Cobbett is certainly the best defined (which isn’t saying much), with a considerable proportion of the tale given over to the plight of his possible failing sanity.  However, almost equally as important to the progressing storyline is the character of Alec Jowsey – a lead member of the ALF.  However, Jowsey is barely even sketched out, let alone given any room to develop any form of bond with the reader.

From cardboard out-out characters to an even stranger run-up to the finale, the tale just keeps pushing the reader further and further away from it.  It’s a difficult book to get through, purely because it’s hard to become engaged with the utterly surreal storyline.  There’s simply too much weird confusion involved.  Too little time spent securing something for the reader to latch on to, such as a sympathetic character, or a more realised threat.

For me at least the novel didn’t work on so many fundamental levels.  I felt lost, unengaged, and quite frankly uninterested for the vast majority of the tale.  It’s a shame because I firmly believe that Watson had some pretty interesting ideas floating about in the fuzzy mess of his head at the time of writing this.  If he was stoned from page one until the final word on the final page, then that would certainly explain a hell of a lot!

The novel runs for a total of 246 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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