A disturbing philosophy

2011-08-17 00:00

CHRISTOPHER Hope deals in the oblique: nothing is specified. The country is nameless and its regimes, past and present, are never quite identified, though being told never to trust a movement that “identifies itself by its initials” is less oblique than some of Hope’s statements. The city is “the ­capital”, the organs of state are shadowy.

But the central figure of Joe ­Angel, born Guiseppe di Angelo, is instantly recognisable, particularly by his death: shot numerous times at the wheel of his car in a dangerous area in what may have been a botched hijacking or an “assisted suicide”. Sound familiar?

The narrator, Charlie Croker, knew Joe when they were both in a Catholic boys’ home in their childhood, running a low-grade war with the Calvinists in the school across the road. But Joe was always dangerous, always ready to take things a little further, and always the target of trouble. The trouble became even more deadly after their school days, but when the book opens, Charlie is ­living in a dusty town in the anonymous desert area of the country, ­doing some desultory teaching and photographing lost and ­forgotten lives. ­He wants no part of his own past, or the wider pre- sent. ­However, life ­intrudes when Joe reappears, asking him to return to the capital.

When he gets there, Joe is already dead, but slowly Charlie begins to discover the past he had wanted so desperately to forget. What he finds is not obviously comforting, but it begins to liberate him from the carapace of oblivion he has constructed for himself.

Hope’s writing is beautiful, both crisp and richly descriptive. But the mistiness of both character and place can make engagement hard. It is as if the author is giving the reader a world where only the individual matters, not the wider society: there can be no salvation beyond one’s own. And that is a disturbing philosophy.

BOOK REVIEW

Shooting Angels

Christopher Hope

Atlantic Books

 

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