Boyd Tonkin enters a satirical time-warp; A Vicious Circle by Amanda Craig, Fourth Estate, pounds 15.99
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Saturday 07 December 1996
This quarrel helped to prove Craig's point. Throughout the book - and in accordance with its core metaphor - intelligence and talent turn inwards, reflect themselves, chase their own tails. Beyond the media's hall of mirrors, where "venom is the elixir of success", single mums on sink estates languish while dying vagrants moan in run-down A and Es. Head and heart, word and deed, culture and society: all drift as far apart as the "Slouch Club" elite and the tower-block poor, now linked only by Dickensian bonds of secret kinship or household service. Coincidence alone unites the scum and dregs.
The social-climbing pundit Mark Crawley reaches the top in "a monstrous glide of savage indignation". He dumps his kind Irish girlfriend Mary for the gilded heiress Amelia, daughter of the Maxwellian magnate Max de Monde (a premise that recalls Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point). Pregnancy deepens Amelia while Mary befriends Adam, a martyred gay novelist. And, together with a saintly medic, Tom, the heroic lone mother Grace opens up our views into an abyss of suffering.
At first, Mary wreaks her revenge by out-bitching Mark with "tawdry, spiteful rubbish" as a reviewer. Then she re-invents herself as an angel in the house while Adam dies slowly of AIDS ("the usual"). Meanwhile, the fleshly fixer Ivo Sponge - literary editor and serial groper - embodies a venal journalistic market ruled by "fear and favour".
Vice and Virtue thump each other senseless like puppets in a Soho Punch- and-Judy show. Only Amelia's pregnancy and motherhood - with magnificent scenes of a life "devoid of logic, radiant with feeling" - really shift into a higher gear. Otherwise, the assault on "cruelty and callousness" still leaves room for some pretty coarse-grained phrase-making. A Filipina maid has a "simian gaze"; nurses show "bovine good nature" and so on.You wonder if Crawley's snobbish, carping spirit has triumphed after all.
Craig finds herself trapped in the vicious circle of the mainstream British novel. Terrified of too much intellectual strain, it can only voice social unease in ever-fiercer bouts of join-the-dots moralism. Thus Max de Monde may fly a helicopter, but as a plutocratic villain he doesn't add a lot to Trollope's Melmotte. Indeed, our satirical novels have changed much less than the world they try to scourge. This one delivers plenty of gratifying wit and rage - but for a glimpse into a media hell that belongs to our fin-de-siecle rather than the last, read Fullalove by Gordon Burn as well.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Mal Peet dead at 67: Tributes to children's author who was 'universally adored'
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'