5 July 2009

Derek Raymond, A State of Denmark, 1964

A pull-quote on the back cover of the most recent edition describes this as “alternative science fiction on the scale of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four”, which is, frankly, rubbish: this doesn’t have the same imaginative scope, even remotely, though it is certainly a descendant of that more famous dystopia. A British socialist Prime Minister of the 1960s called Jobling reveals his true colours and quickly turns England into a relentless dictatorship, while Wales and Scotland secede from the United Kingdom and the Left just rolls over and dies. Set against Jobling is Richard Watt, a political journalist living under self-imposed exiled in Italy; this exotic and rather languorous setting for the first half of the book sets a pace that creaks along, but it’s there mostly to draw parallels with Mussolini. The second half is more descriptive of England under dictatorship and starts off far more boisterous, though endures to a downbeat finale of unceasing hopelessness. Serpent’s Tail reissued this pulp novel posthumously in 2007; it’s different from the usual English noir Robin Cook (as Derek Raymond) offered up but in places it’s plausible – a small warning that, actually, it could happen here if we let our guard down. Cautiously recommended, because in truth I suspect any aspiring British dictator would encounter far more resistance than is portrayed here.  PY


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