Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hari Kunzru "My Revolutions" (Relocated)_

Hari Kunzru "My Revolutions"

Although I've been buying music on line for at least six years, I found the speed with which I went from never heard of My Revolutions to holding it in my hot little hand rather gob-smacking given the fact that I'm still waiting for delivery of a number of subsequent on-line book purchases.

The story, a lengthy meditation prompted by a couple of sudden and apparently unrelated incidents, unfolds cutting back and forwards through thirty-five years the way such meditations do, and makes for an absorbing read. Not quite in the Le Carre class, perhaps, but not a million miles away from it either.

As Michael Frame muses and rambles through the back roads of his memories, I found myself absorbed to the point where I finished the story in a couple of lengthy sittings. Of course, in many ways, with an interest in sixties radicalism and countercultural matters I was probably a sympathetic audience, but Hari Kunzru does an excellent job of drawing the reader in through the yes, I can see why things would go that way doorway.

The story opens with one of those milestones that make you pause and look around you, with Michael Frame about to turn fifty as associated festivities are being prepared. He's in what most of us would probably describe as a pretty good place, semiretired and working part time in a second hand bookshop. This lifestyle is funded by his partner Miranda Martin, the emerging entrepreneur behind Bountessence Natural Beautycare, a range of herbal products, who's in the middle of shifting her business onto the big stage.

Those factors would probably have the average individual pondering the changes, but there's more.

Miranda's daughter Sam has just moved away from home to study Law, and Michael and Miranda take themselves off to France for a holiday.

In circumstances where you'd be inclined to reflection, a chance visit to a village called Sainte-Anne-de-la-Garrigue, the site of a bloody siege during the Albigensian crusade, has Michael and Miranda sitting outside a cafe drinking mineral water when Michael sights a woman with familiar mannerisms.

That, in itself, would be one of those things you'd probably pass off with an I wonder what happened to? But there are reasons why Michael needs to investigate further, and those matters centre around the fact that the subject of the alleged resemblance died in an embassy siege in Copenhagen some twenty years earlier.

Back home, with Miranda in full grow the business mode, a moderately successful dinner party with Miranda's financial backers, prompts a row that in turn prompts Mike's involvement with Pelham Antiquarian Books, which is, as it turns out, a No Smoking zone.

As a result a stressed Mike's smoking under the town’s Market Cross when an apparent tourist photographing the cathedral recognizes him. Miles Bridgeman may not be quite what he seems, but then again Michael Frame isn't what he seems either.

At a time when underground radical Chris Carver needed an identity a graveyard revealed a tombstone for a long-dead infant named Michael Frame, born in the right year and obviously someone who'd lack a lengthy paper trail, which in turn makes him a prime candidate for an alternative identity.

In his earlier life, Chris Carver, a restless youth from suburban London was entering his teens as the 60s started, a time when the teenager was a relatively new phenomenon and the circumstances encouraged rebellion.

The sixties, as the reader may recall, was the decade of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam as much as it was the era of The Beatles, flowers in your hair, peace, love and Woodstock.

Those two strands intertwined for many of us so there's nothing particularly unusual about a kid who discovers politics, joins the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, renounces his family and enrols at the London School of Economics. One thing leads to another and he's imprisoned after being arrested in front of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in 1968.

Again, nothing particularly unusual there. A prominent figure in Brisbane's anti-Springbok demonstrations went on to become Premier of Queensland.

From there, however, Chris Carver's path diverges from the one most of us ended up following. The catalyst is Anna Addison, the ex-model ex-wife of a photographer who's joined the alternative society and draws young Carver into a vortex of squats and communes in Notting Hill.

Anna, Chris and their comrades are, initially, not that far removed from the mainstream of contemporary youth, but as events unfold there's an increasing radicalism as individualism morphs into collectivism, pot and acid are increasingly replaced by amphetamines, and those who condemned of political violence beginning to consider acquiring guns and explosives.

It is a familiar story, and one that has been explored in a number of novels including Christopher Sorrentino's Trance, a fictionalised account of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army after the death of the original head honcho. The challenge for the writer under these circumstances, is to make the transformation seem logical and comprehensible.

As Chris, Anna and their circle carry out exercises in self criticism they decide to attack property but not people, then move on to strike at both property and people, and finally target people as they are drawn into the revolutionary circles that gave us the Baader Meinhof Gang, the Weathermen, and the Japanese Red Army Faction.

Lurking on the edge of those circles filming the participants for a documentary is Miles Bridgeman, and all these years later his apparently accidental encounter with Michael Frame results in an attempt to manipulate him into revealing material that would halt the ascent of a prominent politician. That pressure prompts Michael's excursion to verify whether the woman in France is the long dead Anna.

It's a framework that allows Kunzru to peel back the layers of the story bit by bit, as Michael flees from threatened exposure and arrest, and he does it rather well, throwing in a depth of period detail that adds to the verisimilitude and has the reader saying yes, I can see that.

That's where the parallels with Le Carre are so pronounced. In, for exampleAbsolute FriendsThe Mission Song and A Most Wanted Man Le Carre takes ordinary people and deftly manoeuvres them through circumstances that could beggar belief and does so in a way that allows the reader to accept the unlikely and improbable as credible and understandable.

Kunzru, in My Revolutions, gets rather close to matching the master.

No comments:

Post a Comment