Fiction – paperback; Futura; 87 pages; 1978.
I first read Kenneth Cook‘s Play Little Victims as part of my Year 9 English class at school — way back in the 1980s. It was one of those quirky little books that I much enjoyed at the time and has stayed with me ever since.
Long out of print, I have searched high and low for this book over the years. Recently I found it on Amazon Marketplace for 20 pence (!!) and ordered it straight away.
Re-reading it as an adult, the brilliance of this story has not diminished in any way. If anything, it resonates much stronger now that I am more aware of my own mortality and of mankind’s road to self-destruction.
It’s basically a macabre satire about two mice that survive the end of the world. Adamus and Evemus (geddit?) start being fruitful and multiply — and multiply and multiply — until it’s quite apparent there’s an over-population problem.
An official governing body is set up, which then spends the rest of the book trying to work out ways of solving this problem. With the Word of Man to guide them — a bible and 4,268 editions of the New York Times — they systematically introduce wars, pollution, abortion, road-death, alcohol and cigarettes to stem the ever-increasing numbers of mice living in Earth’s one remaining habitable valley.
When they stumble upon the final solution — revealed on the very last page of this novella — it is more horrifying than one could possibly imagine. It makes your skin crawl and your spine shudder.
The beauty of this charming and intelligent fable is its polished brevity. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny in places, startling and morbidly dark in others. It says so much about the state of the world right now I find it amazing that Play Little Victims has never been reprinted: it would garner such an audience today. Perhaps because it is by an Australian, little known outside of his homeland, it just never gained the international attention it deserved. I’m sure that would not have been the case had he been a Brit or an American…