Okay, so I'm not an ideal PD James reader. I don't do crime. I usually stick to the posher reads, preferably dead authors, preferably in translation,Okay, so I'm not an ideal PD James reader. I don't do crime. I usually stick to the posher reads, preferably dead authors, preferably in translation, preferably from a language long dead too.
Tired of all that as Christmas approached, I wanted something real, something insightful about today and tomorrow. How a crisis could trip us into fascism. How we would go about resisting.
Look high, look low. There's none of that here. The characters are cut out of cardboard. Posh card, mind. British class stereotypes from long ago - the waspish academic, the bright and sensitive undergrad, the bolshie young chap with a chip on his shoulder.
The meander around north Oxford, the life of an academic, the look back at a life spent, empty, lacking has its moments. Perhaps PD James should have concentrated on this Oxford reverie.
Instead, the story veers off into an examination of totalitarianism. Embarrassingly. Yes: who, whom. But the nature of power remains an enigma. Why do some seek it, some fight against it? No sense that this has been thought through - although the author is a peer of the House of Lords, is among the great and the good, is relatively powerful.
The lack of revolutionary know-how on the part of the wannabe dissidents is hard to believe. You won't need to be an Occupy protester to know that this really isn't the way to fight the power.
The book's greatest fault, however, is that the plot plods along at a completely predictable pace; it follows a predictable trajectory. No twists, no turns. A nod to moral and religious quandaries, just enough to let us know that they're there, and the foot down on the accelerator, sometimes literally, to the next set piece.
What kept me turning the pages were the incidental details about Oxford academic life as well as the slight insights into old age - though even these didn't ring quite true.
I wanted more on the end of the world as we know it. I should have reread The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, On the Beach by Nevil Shute or even Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh....more