THE PONSONBY POST by Bernice Rubens


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Well-bred Hugh Brownlow, frustrated with not having yet been knighted for his work as a National Arts Council top dog in London, opts for a new job: the Ponsonby Post, UN Liaison Officer in Indonesia (a post named in memory of a UN field-worker who was shredded by a wayward tractor--""Thus Progress does make ribbons of us all""). Soon after settling down in Djogjakarta with wife and daughter, Brownlow finds himself playing detective; a comely World Food Programme volunteer has been murdered, and a local aviator dies when his plane crashes. When Brownlow comes too close to connecting both those deaths to a pair of disturbed homosexuals, they abduct him during a posh party--by spiking the punch with hashish and creating orgiastic havoc-and leave him to die in a wasteland. He is reluctantly rescued by members of the PKI, a Communist terrorist group hiding out nearby. This thriller-ish and politically angled scenario, however, is the least engaging aspect of highly talented Bernice Rubens' rather slapdash, a-little-bit-of-everything novel: the portrayal of the terrorists is unreasonably romantic, the anti-colonial message obvious as well as old-hat. So much better are some of the side-show vignettes of colonial life in Djogjakarta--especially a German businessman's literal imprisonment of his portly wife, who has come to Indonesia from Berlin to tell him, in person, that she's leaving him for another man. Rubens (I Sent a Letter To My Love) is at her ironic, coolly compassionate best with the intense but narrow lives of people who are neither heroes nor villains; here there are only snatches of such funny/heart-breaking material. But even the less distinctive, more didactic moments in this uneven and unfocused book are edged with the intelligence and witty incisiveness of an unpretentious, intriguing writer.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1978
Publisher: St. Martin's