Top-shelf torments

Is the road to hell paved with centrefolds? Michael Arditti has some doubts; Hope by Glen Duncan, Viking, pounds 9.99

The jury is still out on pornography. Does it relieve sexual frustrations and deter violence against women? Do its objectified images inspire violence against women? Or are the images themselves violence against women? There is no doubt of Glen Duncan's view in this polemical first novel. In his book, pornography represents original sin.

Hope recounts the life and loves of 28-year-old Gabriel Jones, particularly in relation to pornography and sexual violence. He lost his innocence as a child through his friendship with a precocious neighbour, Katherine Holmes, who inducted him in fellatio and drinking urine. Later, when hiding in a wardrobe, he watched her being abused by her father with her mother's connivance.

Duncan intends this trauma to carry considerable psychological as well as symbolic weight, although it is unclear how much responsibility it bears for the failure of Gabriel's relationship with his undergraduate girlfriend, Alicia. It is always a problem in a first-person narrative when a character is seen through the eyes of love, and Alicia is no exception. Gabriel's paean to her perfection becomes off-putting and their love seems faintly puerile (it is no accident that she chooses to see herself as an Enid Blyton character, and he as one from Lord of the Rings).

Alicia is a feminist whose research requires her both to study men's magazines and to interview a stripper. When she discovers Gabriel at a strip-show in The Pig's Head pub, she breaks with him. This is a blow from which he never recovers, and his post-university career is a mess, enlivened only by friendship with Daniel, a would-be novelist, and visits to Hope, a high-class prostitute who is herself deeply disturbed.

It is refreshing to read a first novel that is unashamedly polemical and moral. Its key question is why Gabriel continues to do what he knows to be wrong. The problem is that Duncan's schematic morality allows no room for fictional ambiguity. Just as children find it unfair that the Fall should have been caused by eating one apple, so the reader may feel unconvinced that Gabriel's sexual fall should occur after reading a single magazine.

Even those (such as myself) who hold similar views to Duncan about pornography need them to be more subtly expressed. Gabriel's view of sexuality is simplistic, just as his wish to be cossetted by women (he visits the hairdresser purely to put his head in their hands) is infantile. The author also over- idealises women. As one who has reviewed a performance by the Chippendales, I can assure him that objectification works both ways.

When Duncan writes well, as in his description of childhood summers ("the evenings trailed, gracefully; like the cloaks of benevolent wizards"), he writes very well indeed. Unfortunately, he has endowed his narrator with a boundless taste for repetition. ("I'm still passionate. I still have passion. My response to life is still, by and large, passionate.") Duncan has written a provocative novel about a compelling subject, but it requires an editor's red pencil as urgently as the material he examines requires a censor's blue one.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before