ePub ¸ The CatastrophistA Novel ñ Ronan Bennett
Heart of DarknessFew literary works have achieved the sustained unflinching pessimism of Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad's haunting tale of one man's journey into the African subcontinent One new novel that can justly make that claim is The Catastrophist by the talented Irish writeractivist Ronan Bennett Here Conrad's classic tale is transmogrified by a century of irony Westernization and a tip of the hat to Graham Greene and John le Carré Benett's Marlow is James Gillespie an Irish historian turned novelist who travels to the Congo in 1959 Set against the death throes of the age of imperialism the new nation's violent struggle for independence from Belgium provides ample opportunity for Gillespie to explore the dark territory of political and emotional engagementGillespie's Kurtz the figure who draws him to the Congo and whose maddening attachment to the place both fascinates and repulses him is Inès a fiery Italian journalist who pens fiercely pro Congolese articles for a radical newspaper Inès and Gillespie met in London at the house of Gillespie's publisher and soon after were heading to Ireland for a romantic getaway Inès was smitten instantly I am already loving you she whispers as they first make love but Gillespie considerably less headstrong was slower to recognize his feelings Following Inès to Léopoldville Kinshasa the Congolese capital was his emotional plunge his gesture toward commitment But soon after his arrival Gillespie realizes that he has been displaced from Inès's attentions by her devotion to Patrice Lumumba the charismatic Congolese independence leader Gillespie on the other hand is incapable of viewing the disorganized independence movement as anything than an unfortunate farce; nor does he sympathize with the Belgians in Léopoldville who live in cloistered luxury walled off from the cité indigène where the blacks live by well patrolled walls and their own willful obliviousnessDespairing First I'm going to tell you what the Financial Times has to say about this book Bennett's writing is as lush and sensual as ripe mangos The tone which is perfectly pitched and the exotic setting collude to evoke an era of colonial decadenceRemember this Now I'm going to tell you What I learned from this book I always wondered who was stupid enough to put that on top of the review box but now I know That's not the learning experience I wanted to tell you about thoughWhat I learned from this book is that when the Financial Times recommends a book and compares it to sweet juicy fruits it's most likely a sensual tale about a man and a woman written for desperate business men who know they can't exactly keep the playboy on their deskIn other words Bennett writes porn Oh right it's not really porn because the people aren't naked when the story starts so technically I guess it's erotica though there's an awful lot of porny bits so lets call the horse by its nameIt's tasteful porn I give him that The non porny bits are good too the whole book is good really And you don't see me complaining about the porny bits either no sir It's just that I didn't expect it to be that porny But see those business men need something juicy to read in those long buiness class flights and a book that pretends to be a love story set during the fight for the Congolese independence with a cover that doesn't suggest porn at all and provides innocent intellectual parts on every page that you can uote in case anyone asks you to that's just the thing for those men In other words that's just the thing for Financial Times readers There they are in business class imagining what it would be like to sleep with Ines who doesn't like foreplay and gets very wet very fast yes I'm uoting settling the Financial Times a bit securely down in their lap and if somebody asks what they are reading Oh it's this book about a writer look what an understanding EMO man I am who goes to the Congo because of a woman look what a romantic I am during the fight for Congolese independence look what an intellectual I amI still call it porn It's also very male porn which made it uite interesting because it is written entirely from a man's POV a man who thinks he is in love Girls do you think Bennett realizes how accurate his description of love really is? Man thinks he is in lovethinks about his sex life all the time?This is even cleverer than I thoughtSo I think we've established that it's an intellectual book for business men who like to read porn while flying But then I get to the last page and whow Mr Bennett is that you in that EMO pose with the schoolboyishly ruffled hair and are you really wearing a thick woolen turtleneck sweater? You look like Angel's Wesley Only with less leather they don't like black leather in business class That totally makes me want to go out with you But if I want to read about real men having sex I go look for some good slash fiction on the internet More leather less of that pesky love stuff SorryBack to the book I had some structural differences with it mostly because it takes place in the past but is written in a present tense first person narrator POV which was a bit confusing in the beginning I also wasn't as drawn into the love part of the love story as I had hoped to be but the historical part made up for that So should you read this? Why not It's not a bad book it's probably even a good book Except if you are a woman you might want something with a bit depth cause I can't help thinking that the whole story was just an excuse to write about sex and violence Mr Bennett I'd still go out with you thoughHave I learned something else from this book?Yes I don't use enough fruit metaphors to ever be writing reviews for the Financial Times Ripe mangos??? Were they being served in business class while the reviewer wrote his review?
Ronan Bennett ñ The CatastrophistA Novel text
The CatastrophistA NovelUs surrounded by zealots but insulated by a carapace of solipsism Gillespie struggles futilely to maintain his position on the sidelines Once embarrassed by melodrama and maudlin displays of affection he finds himself begging Inès to take him back And once so bitterly skeptical of Lumumba's efforts he finds himself drawn into the struggle forced to make a sacrifice for a cause he doubts a self consciously doomed gesture to win back Inès's love For much of the book Gillespie's presiding motto is a uote from Pushkin Does a man die at your feet your business is not to help him but to note the color of his lips But when he has an opportunity to enact that dictum its guidance seems woefully inadeuate Gillespie's policy of detachment becomes the ultimate catastrophe I was always too much a watcher Gillespie laments at the close of the book Indeed one of The Catastrophist's finest ironies is that the journalist Inès has discarded all objectivity while Gillespie the novelist and narrator insists his writing maintain a sense of distance Bennett too is a watcher his prose alert and deliberate and yet for him this policy of detachment works brilliantly Much of the book's power derives from its implacable steady tone and many of its most stirring passages are the love scenes in which Gillespie's cool measured narrative voice struggles against and succumbs to the eroticism and immediacy of the momentThis tactic does have its weaknesses however; the climactic scenes of violence and brutality depicting the aftermath of Mobuto's coup fall flat as do Gillespie's ruminations on his love of literature In both these cases the crescendo in narrative intensity feels vaguely inauthentic But on the whole Bennett has given us a superb book part suspense thriller part psychological study It adds its capable voice to that unsettling opening of Conrad's own masterful tale And this also has been one of the dark places of the earthBenjamin Soski Bennett reminds me a lot of Graham Greene in a good way In The Catastrophist as in many of Greene's novels a middle aged European man goes to Africa in the last days of colonialism trying to salvage a doomed romance Unlike Greene the object of desire here is actually a fully realized character not just an idea of a woman Bennett creates a strong sense of place in his depictions of the Congo in 1960 and the failure of the relationship nicely follows the failure of Lumumba's dream for a strong independent Congo Sad but nicely written