City of Dust

Julian Symons

  • A Den of Foxes by Stuart Hood
    Methuen, 217 pp, £13.99, July 1991, ISBN 0 413 65110 X
  • Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin
    Faber, 241 pp, £13.99, June 1991, ISBN 0 571 16216 9
  • A Strange and Sublime Address by Amit Chaudhuri
    Heinemann, 209 pp, £13.99, June 1991, ISBN 0 434 12348 X
  • Spider by Patrick McGrath
    Viking, 221 pp, £13.99, April 1991, ISBN 0 670 83684 2

What Carlyle called the Condition of England Question – in our day, the country created by Thatcher and her sub-lieutenants – is surely the ripest subject on offer to novelists. The centripetal tendencies of a government that every year has affirmed its centrifugal intentions, the encouragement for financial whizzkids to enrich themselves and the brushing aside of accompanying financial scandals, the building boom based on an everrising tower of credit, and the collapsed public and private notions of morality, all cry out to be dealt with in fiction by the flat power of the Zola who in La Curée excoriated those who made speculative fortunes from Hausmann’s rebuilding of Paris, and in Pot-Bouille savaged the social and moral attitudes of bourgeois lives as seen in an apartment block occupied by the middle class. But Zolaesque naturalism has been out of intellectual fashion for a generation. Although the Condition of England Question does engage the attention of novelists, they approach it with glancing allusiveness, like Martin Amis, or cover it with the cloak of magical realism, which, whatever its dubious imaginative benefits, weakens any intended social point. So it is no surprise that Stuart Hood and Michael Dibdin concern themselves with the present state of society and morality via Science Fiction and a crime story.

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