Round and round
MAITREYEE S. GANAPATHY
Coming as it does without hype, My revolutions is thought provoking.
My Revolutions, Hari Kunzru, Hamish Hamilton, p.277, price not stated.
“When the telly started spewing pictures of fox-hunters pushing policemen in Parliament Square, I laughed so hard… Oh I was living in a topsy-turvy world all right, a mirror of world of flash and spin and graphic design. Po
litics is just lifestyle. Even the scandals seemed to be about home improvement.”
In his youth he had often wondered what future society would look like. The present was nothing like what he had imagined or even desired.
And yet here he was, Mike Frame, the husband of the goddess of “alternative lifestyles”, Miranda, whose successful beauty business had allowed him to soak in considerable luxury.
Things are not what they seem
Mike’s disquiet with life has other reasons too. The mask he has kept so well for years is slipping. This really is not his life and he is not even who he pretends to be. It is increasingly difficult for Mike to ignore his past, a life that his partner and step-daughter know nothing about. On his fiftieth birthday while Miranda is busy with preparations for an elaborate party, Mike packs and quietly leaves.
En route Sainte-Anne-de-la Garrigue, France, Mike’s turbulent life and his real identity as the key member of an underground revolutionary group is revealed. The group had been responsible for a series of violent demonstrations and a string of bombings in Britain. The urgent need to go back to Sainte-Anne-de-la-Garrigue where just sometime ago Mike had spent an uneasy holiday with Miranda was to confirm the presence of an old lover and a comrade-in-arms from his days of revolution who was known to be dead.
As he drives round the Paris peripherique in dizzying circles (revolutions is the book’s leitmotif ) Mike’s past life unfolds. He grew up, as Chris Carver, in Ruislip, West London, close to an airfield that served as an American base during World War II. When Chris gained admission to the London School of Economics, even his father, a man “whose emotions got lost at the bottom of the North Atlantic on some wartime winter convoy”, had evinced pride. College meant “upward mobility”. But it was also a time when the anti-Vietnam war protests were gaining momentum.
A protest demonstration and subsequent arrest and a prison sentence precipitate unalterable changes in Chris’ life. It establishes him firmly on the “other side” symbolised in counter culture and Radical Left politics. Chris’s home is now with the underground groups. He shares their notion of transmutation of the self in order to transform society and a way forward through “practical actions”. The actions range from stealing food from supermarkets and distributing amongst the poor to forcibly occupying council houses to provide shelter to the needy to small and symbolic bombings to mark their protests. Slowly, they are introduced to firearms and explosives.
This coming of age at a time of rebel politics is not without confusion. Chris sees an obvious spilt between how he wants things to be and how they actually were, not just in the world but also in his group. My Revolutions goes over
the experience with a fine tooth comb, looking at the grey areas and contradictions and beliefs.
My Revolutions is a thought-provoking tale which moves like a thriller. It comes to you without the kind of frenzy and hype that accompanied Hari Kunzru’s first book and is therefore all the more enjoyable to read. As a novelist
he has delivered consistently and this time is no exception. Rather, in many ways, My Revolutions is a more likeable novel. Mike/Chris is an entirely believable character, easy to empathise. There are many other memorable characters in
the book, each passionate and real in his own way. Kunzru does a perfect job of bringing the mood and atmosphere of the underground groups and communes of the 1960s to life.
No escaping politics
Early in the story, Mike ruminates on how politics was not a matter of choice in his times. Listening to his step-daughter, a law student, while she tells him of her decision to “do corporate” as that was where the money was, he wonders how different she was from a 19-year-old of his generation. Then, quite presciently, he observes, “But politics is here, Sam, even in 1998. It may be in abeyance, at least in your world. But it is lurking round the edges. It will be back.” The reader knows it has.
The book is vastly different from Kunzru’s earlier works. Unlike them, this one follows the traditional narrative structure. The story is largely based on the experiences of the Angry Brigade that was active in London in the early 1970s. The book never wavers in its intent to examine the issues, beliefs and actions in a serious manner. Its relevance to present day politics cannot be missed.
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