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Slaughterhouse Prayer by John King

Little Michael Tanner is shocked to discover that the adults are killing animals and that he has been eating their bodies. Having learned the truth from his grandfather on a visit to the countryside, when he returns to London he realises that his friend Sam ‘Piggy’ Norton – whose dream it is to have a farm and lots of pigs – doesn’t know what he will have to do to the creatures he loves. But should Michael tell Piggy and break his heart?

Ten years later and Michael is Mickey Moo, a youth influenced by punk and especially those bands opposed to vivisection, hunting, leather, meat and dairy. He wants to believe that words and peaceful protest can end the slaughter, but a beating by hunt supporters creates a desire for revenge and his questioning of the animal-rights movement’s dedication to non-violence. Older activists insist that if he responds in kind he will be little better than the men who attacked him. He has a choice to make.

Middle-aged and disillusioned, Tanner reconsiders his life on a cross-country walk that takes him through the same landscapes in which these conflicts began. He is at a crossroads, his mind drawn to the country’s farms and slaughterhouses, feelings of powerlessness and terror that reflect his own sadness and losses. It is time to change. He doesn’t want to be unhappy any longer. He needs to clear his head and conform, forget the animals and forget the past. But back in London he is taunted by the warped advertising of the meat and dairy industries and some familiar insults return – smelly pig, dirty cow, chick-chick-chicken.

Tanner starts to wonder… If people could see the treatment of animals in a truly human context then surely they would change their diets and end the carnage? Could a vegan soldier operate in a calm and measured way, remain unemotional and humane in his work? Or would he be corrupted and turn into a monster?

Slaughterhouse Prayer swings from the wonders of existence and the genius of humans to the horrors of the meat and dairy industries and the cruelty of so-called humanity – and back again. It goes to the margins of society and beyond, out to the edge where the homeless shelter and streetwalkers sell their bodies for drug money, keeps on going until it reaches those creatures not considered worthy of a place in that society.

The novel runs on a soundtrack that includes ‘Meat Is Murder’ by The Smiths, ‘Slaughter Of Innocence’ by Conflict, ‘Sick Butchers’ by Flux Of Pink Indians, ‘Pigman’ by the Subhumans and ‘Sabotage The Hunt’ by The Business. It also runs on a menu that sees the world’s cuisine made without cruelty. Tanner is no celebrity chef, but he can rustle up a decent British, Indian, Caribbean, Chinese or Italian meal. Out and about, he dines at King Harry’s Traditional and the Ganesh Bhelpuri, wanders the streets of London as he tries to exhaust his mind, losing himself in its buildings and culture. He is a thinker and a drinker who enjoys a pint and the comradeship of his species. He has to love his own kind. Doesn’t want to be alone.

Dreams, visions and nightmares merge with reality as Slaughterhouse Prayer confronts the cartoon depictions of those being abused and exploited. The story introduces Bunny and Brer Rabbit, Peter and Paul Pig, Daisy Moo Cow and a young bull called John, Little Mary Meek and even jolly Farmer Giles – a man at the end of his days who is left to reflect on his life, his last remaining friends the creatures in the hutches outside his kitchen door.

Slaughterhouse Prayer looks at the reasons for meat and dairy consumption, from the drives of industry and big business to the excuses of habit and tradition. It shows the complicity of a nation of animal-lovers while sympathising with their fear of facing up to the sheer horror and scale of the abuse that surrounds them. This is a story of innocence and guilt in a world where language is manipulated to disguise and excuse our treatment of the most weak and vulnerable. In Slaughterhouse Prayer, those responsible are challenged in a very direct way.