Telegram £12.99 (407pp) £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Eating Air, By Pauline Melville

What if the Angry Brigade terrorists of the Seventies were to link up with the Islamist militants of the 2000s? It's a fascinating question, raised by Pauline Melville in her new novel. Eating Air is a fantasia on yesterday's revolutionaries, a divertimento that skims back and forth between London, Brazil, Surinam and Italy. The key is comic; the language pregnant with wit. It does not just rain: "Spermatozoa of rain" wriggle down a window.

Technically, the novel is a virtuoso performance, playing with a gallimaufry of characters, including ballerina Ella de Vries and her lover, Donny, an anarchist beyond anarchism; Vera Scobie, a Vanessa Redgrave lookalike; Seventies radicals Hector Rossi, Mark Scobie and Victor Skynnard. A couple of less than credible Islamist terrorists, Shahid and Massoud, are briefly on stage: "It will be the sword of Islam that slashes the bellies of the fat." There are Trots and Scots and police infiltrators and bloated bankers, all thinly characterised, whirled along on a dervish plot to credit-crunch catastrophe.

The figure linking the two revolutionary groups is Khaled, Hector's comrade on the Paris barricades in 1968, who trains Hector with the Palestinian fedayeen in Jordan. Their early relationship is the novel's most striking success: "They were like lovers, serious and chaste, but speaking only about explosives: Kalashnikovs, grenades, rocket-launchers". The quasi-erotic solidarity of brothers-in-arms is recalled by Hector with passionate nostalgia. Life thereafter has seemed tame, in dull thrall to the domestic round. Vague, shambolic, often parasitic people, they miss their heady afflatus, asking: "What is a revolutionary to do when there are no revolutions?" But it seems odd these militants had not morphed into eco-warriors or anti-globalisation protesters.

Whereas, in The Good Terrorist, Doris Lessing acknowledges the humanity of her Eighties misfit revolutionaries dabbling with explosives in a London squat, Eating Air is written in a spirit of ludic levity. Its characterslack depth and engagement. Hector, who spends years in an Italian prison, reminded me of Stuart Christie, convicted for the attempted assassination of General Franco and in danger of death by garrotte. In his memoir Granny Made Me An Anarchist, Christie recognises past follies. But his joky title covers a passionate seriousness.

Melville's whirligig plot, rich in coincidence, is made crazier by classical myth, including ritual slaughter by a groin-goring wild boar. Mythic motifs whizz round – boars, bees, goats, bulls. In this danse macabre, the havoc-wreaking Donny McLeod plays Dionysus in filthy jeans, orgiastic, ambivalent and feral: "The smell of him was the strong smell of a goat." Donny, like Nietzsche's Dionysian man, is a "pied piper of consciences". Ella's love for him leads into art rather than politics: she exchanges Swan Lake for the frenzies of The Fire Bird and Salome.

Stevie Davies's latest novel is 'The Eyrie' (Phoenix)

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003