Martin Martin's On The Other Side, By Mark Wernham

This novelist has seen the future of Britain... and it's stupid

Reviewed,Jonathan Gibbs
Thursday 24 January 2008 01:00

Anyone worried about the inexorable dumbing-down of British life, look away now. Mark Wernham has seen the future, and it's stupid. This debut novel's setting is left unclear: Britain is run as a sort of mindless idiocracy, a Comet shopfloor by day, a heaving city-centre Wetherspoon's by night.

The Prime Minister is a grinning fool who shows off his pecs on billboards, while workers are schooled from birth for life in an "agri-factory" or "the gov", where they earn not money but credits towards paying off their "Life Debt".

Drone happiness in this brave new world is maintained thanks to free-flowing recreational drugs and a branch of bar-cum-sex club Starfucks on every corner. Any men worried about the relentless rise of women in society might want to hang on in there. This moronic Britain is run by men, for men.

The moron at the centre of Wernham's novel is lowly Social Studies functionary Jensen Interceptor, a live-for-the-weekend boor of the first order. Jensen gets a surprising promotion to the Security Department when he stumbles on an illegal cell of Martin Martinists. They are cult followers of an old TV psychic (from the bad old days of whom they see as a messiah, destined to save the world from itself.

Jensen's narrative voice is a deliberately charmless amalgam of swearing, baby-talk and buzzwords. Girls have "chumblies", poor folk drink "red booze" and eat "bolly naze", Jensen's "spank pad" is "spot bollock". It's a deliberate echo of Alex in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, and if it seems a poor relation in terms of linguistic inventiveness, maybe that's the point. Which doesn't make it any less of a chore to read.

What do we expect from such a future-dystopia? Whether it's Brazil or Nineteen Eighty-Four, the creation of a believable world is only half the point. There must be a reason for its creation, which is where we hope for some serious analysis. The problem with Martin Martin... is that, for all its plausibly repellent window-dressing, the motor of the plot is not political at all. It hangs on Martin Martin's paranormal abilities – time travel, precognition and spiritual possession. Throw in a surprisingly conventional epiphany for Jensen (the love of a good woman!) and you have a novel that's not half as cynical or radical as it would like to think.

Jonathan Cape, £11.99. Order for £10.99 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

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