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summary The CatastrophistA Novel ↠ eBook, ePUB or Kindle PDF ✓ Heart of DarknessFew literary works have achieved the sustained unflinching pessimism of Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad's haunting tale of one man's journey into the African subcontinent One new novel that can justly make that claim is The Catastrophist Us surrounded by zealots but insulated by a carapace of solipsism Gillespie struggles futilely to maintain his position on the sidelines Once embarrassed by melodrama and maudlin displays of affection he finds himself begging Inès to take him back And once so bitterly skeptical of Lumumba's efforts he finds himself drawn into the struggle forced to make a sacrifice for a cause he doubts a self consciously doomed gesture to win back Inès's love For much of the book Gillespie's presiding motto is a uote from Pushkin Does a man die at your feet your business is not to help him but to note the color of his lips But when he has an opportunity to enact that dictum its guidance seems woefully inadeuate Gillespie's policy of detachment becomes the ultimate catastrophe I was always too much a watcher Gillespie laments at the close of the book Indeed one of The Catastrophist's finest ironies is that the journalist Inès has discarded all objectivity while Gillespie the novelist and narrator insists his writing maintain a sense of distance Bennett too is a watcher his prose alert and deliberate and yet for him this policy of detachment works brilliantly Much of the book's power derives from its implacable steady tone and many of its most stirring passages are the love scenes in which Gillespie's cool measured narrative voice struggles against and succumbs to the eroticism and immediacy of the momentThis tactic does have its weaknesses however; the climactic scenes of violence and brutality depicting the aftermath of Mobuto's coup fall flat as do Gillespie's ruminations on his love of literature In both these cases the crescendo in narrative intensity feels vaguely inauthentic But on the whole Bennett has given us a superb book part suspense thriller part psychological study It adds its capable voice to that unsettling opening of Conrad's own masterful tale And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth—Benjamin Soski. Bennett reminds me a lot of Graham Greene in a good way In The Catastrophist as in many of Greene's novels a middle aged European man goes to Africa in the last days of colonialism trying to salvage a doomed romance Unlike Greene the object of desire here is actually a fully realized character not just an idea of a woman Bennett creates a strong sense of place in his depictions of the Congo in 1960 and the failure of the relationship nicely follows the failure of Lumumba's dream for a strong independent Congo Sad but nicely written

Ronan Bennett Î 8 review

Over Inès's increasingly distant air Gillespie befriends an American named Stipe who is in the Congo to promote American security interests as well as Stipe's loyal ambitious driver Auguste Stipe feeds Gillespie information about the imminence of an uprising allowing him to complete some lucrative freelance pieces while Auguste shares his dreams about having an office on Fifth AvenueThese bonds prove fragile however and dissolve once the independence movement comes to a violent chaotic boil Inès's partisanship becomes even pronounced and she spends all her time at Lumumba's camp Gillespie's articles alienate him from many of the Belgians who refuse to consider the Congolese other than as mischievous children Stipe and his Belgian companions meanwhile become fearful of Lumumba's Communist sympathies and begin unsavory efforts to undermine his authority supporting the right wing party of the pro Western Mobutu Sese Seko instead Auguste who has become active in Lumumba's youth movement dissociates himself from Stipe; entering into Lumumba's inner circle he soon meets Inès Inès and Auguste become lovers and Gillespie after countless efforts to win her back is forced to contemplate a world breaking up around him The Catastrophist is primarily a story of failure both of a crumbling political movement and of a doomed relationship There is little surprise about the former even for those unfamiliar with Congolese history; in the opening scene of the book Lumumba is captured by Mobutu after attempting to escape the country Inès once charged Gillespie with being a catastrophist one who believes it is always the end He countered by claiming that if the problem is bigthe only thing to do is leave it behind As the events of the book lead inexorably to a series of personal and political catastrophes Gillespie's pessimism seems only to be confirmed; and yet tethered by his love for Inès he cannot leave these catastrophes behindTh. The book is set in late 1959 early 1960 in Belgian Congo which is lurching towards catastrophic independence Depanda when the narrator IrishEnglish author James Gillespie flies into Leopoldville to be reunited with his Italian lover Ines Sabiana a journalist with L'Unita And it was a catastrophe Before independence the highest ranked black administrator was a mere clerk and the highest ranked black soldier was a NCO When Belgium suddenly decides to give the Congo independence in six months there is no smooth handover of power instead all the whites jump ship and the country despite being probably the most mineral rich country in Africa is left bankrupt When Patrice Lumumba the leader of the biggest political group and a unionistis voted into power he makes the ill judged decision to give all public workers other than the Army a large pay rise and is promptly overthrown in a coup by Joseph Mobutu This leads to disintegration of the country with widespread petty and systematic brutality on both political and tribal grounds Into this political vacuum steps the vying superpowers USSR and America to further muddy the watersInes despite being a journalist is passionate about independence and seems to have decided Communist leanings whereas James is indifferent or as he prefers 'objective' preferring to observe rather than really engage James also becomes friendly with American Stipe who works for their consulate in some undefined capacity but the assumption that it is CIA or something of that ilk This drives the two lovers apart and so James is left forlorn and desperate for things to revert to the way things were before However it seems IMHO a relationship based merely on sex rather than anything deeperIn many respects this is what I find wrong with this book I just never felt that James and in particular Ines never really rang true In fact Ines seemed like the dreams of a desperate middle aged man with her easy ability to orgasm and inability to have children Both are writers of sorts but both use words in different ways Ines uses her journalistic reports to promote her political zeal whereas James uses words as a barrier to hide from the events that are transpiring around him Ultimately he is forced to face reality and take sidesOn the whole I liked the author's writing style with some fairly stereotypical minor characters and he gives a reasonable account of the madness taking place in the country both before and after independence although personally I would have preferred a little Certainly I feel that the outside world and particularly Belgium come out of it very badly being portrayed as 'fiddling whilst Rome burnt' beforehand and callously indifferent afterwards Much the same can probably be said about the UN However there was certainly implied actually it was openly stated at one point bias within that Britain would have handled the situation better Perhaps we would have but that is probably to wider experience ie colonies vying for independence rather than anything elseI recently read 'A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali' and thoroughly enjoyed that This was an enjoyable read but not up to that standard That said if I spot any of Ronan Bennett's books I will not shy away from picking them up

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The CatastrophistA NovelHeart of DarknessFew literary works have achieved the sustained unflinching pessimism of Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad's haunting tale of one man's journey into the African subcontinent One new novel that can justly make that claim is The Catastrophist by the talented Irish writeractivist Ronan Bennett Here Conrad's classic tale is transmogrified by a century of irony Westernization and a tip of the hat to Graham Greene and John le Carré Benett's Marlow is James Gillespie an Irish historian turned novelist who travels to the Congo in 1959 Set against the death throes of the age of imperialism the new nation's violent struggle for independence from Belgium provides ample opportunity for Gillespie to explore the dark territory of political and emotional engagementGillespie's Kurtz the figure who draws him to the Congo and whose maddening attachment to the place both fascinates and repulses him is Inès a fiery Italian journalist who pens fiercely pro Congolese articles for a radical newspaper Inès and Gillespie met in London at the house of Gillespie's publisher and soon after were heading to Ireland for a romantic getaway Inès was smitten instantly I am already loving you she whispers as they first make love but Gillespie considerably less headstrong was slower to recognize his feelings Following Inès to Léopoldville Kinshasa the Congolese capital was his emotional plunge his gesture toward commitment But soon after his arrival Gillespie realizes that he has been displaced from Inès's attentions by her devotion to Patrice Lumumba the charismatic Congolese independence leader Gillespie on the other hand is incapable of viewing the disorganized independence movement as anything than an unfortunate farce; nor does he sympathize with the Belgians in Léopoldville who live in cloistered luxury walled off from the cité indigène where the blacks live by well patrolled walls and their own willful obliviousnessDespairing. The Catastrophist is simply one of the finest books I've read in years I intend to get back here and review it with the thought it deserves But until I get out from under a pile of revisions I just want to recommend this brilliant complex emotionally intelligent novel It's rare to come across a writer as gifted with the language and its expression as Bennett but what a marvelous joy to do so