Political sausage machine; LONG PIG by Alex Berry, Cape pounds 10.99

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SET IN Los Angeles at the end of the 1980s, but narrated in 1994, Long Pig revolves around the relationship between Jim Tickell, a maverick televangelist, and Alex Berry, a "freshly hatched utopian" just graduated from business school at the University of Southern California. Tickell is wealthy and established while Berry is unknown, poor but unusually inventive; the two men are brought together into an unlikely partnership. The result of their cooperation is the Humpty Dumpster, an eco-friendly contraption which ends up, after much experimentation, "making its own electricity, cleaning up the community it's in, recycling its waste, [and] producing tasty, nutritious, gourmet-quality meat products". The resulting publicity is widespread and wholly positive. The profits are impressive; California champions Tickell and Berry ambiguously muses that "the God behind all the good in the world, the movement that shapes life's direction, crouched behind the jackpot of this transaction."

When Nelda, Tickell's wife, seduces Berry, the muddling influence of uncontrollable human desire begins to complicate the neatly laid-out business arrangements. Berry's comfortable and naive moral outlook is challenged, as is his view of himself. It is precisely at this point, predictably enough, that everything goes horribly wrong: at a brunch organised to promote and sell both the Humpty Dumpster, and the tasty sausages to which it gives birth, everyone comes down with food poisoning.

It would be easy for Long Pig to sink into cliche from this point: cult religious leader is discovered to be corrupt; young idealist learns about the real world the hard way. But while Tickell does indeed turn out to be corrupt, and Berry does enter the world of adulthood with a severe headache, the book uses this thematic progression to explore much broader matters, such as the complicating influence of Evangelical religion on American politics, the unthinking compulsiveness of consumer capitalism, the comedy of human relations and, most importantly perhaps, the absolute penetration of all areas of private life made possible by modern technology.

The obsession with secret observation and recording for political ends smacks of William Burroughs, and there is an obvious Nabokovian parallel to be drawn, between the novelist as intruder in and manipulator of the lives of his characters and the role of the narrator. This sort of parallel keeps theorists and postmodernists excitedly awake into the early hours, and has ruined a thousand novels, but in this instance don't let it put you off. The authorial self-consciousness in Long Pig never becomes unbearable.

The presentation of the uses and abuses of modern spying equipment is at its most provocative when it provides a perverted angle on the sex- scenes - we are aware that every act is being filmed, and is in turn being watched on film by the narrator (just as we read it on the page). These scenes, incidentally, prove that sex in literature after Aids can be just as stimulating and inventive as it has always been.

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