A spare political fable assesses the contaminating nature of power in both public and private lives.
A small cast of nameless characters interacts intricately in Dovey’s poised debut, set in an unnamed country in the grip of political turmoil. Three men initially share the narration—a portraitist, a chef and a barber—all of whom have worked for the President and are now swept up in regime change when the Commander launches a coup. Imprisoned in the head of state’s Summer Residence, the President is beaten and forced to confront the violence he inflicted on his opponents, while the three captured workers take up their old roles, now in the service of the new leader. The portraitist’s wife, eight months pregnant, has also been taken prisoner. The barber recognizes the Commander’s wife: Previously she was the fiancée of his brother, who was one of the President’s victims. The book is divided into three parts, and in part two the women speak—the chef’s daughter and the wives—revealing their pasts and their mixed feelings toward their relations. Simultaneously sensuous and claustrophobic, the novel charts deception, estrangement and the recognition of power’s inevitably corrupting tendency. The brief but intense story concludes in a violent cycle of death, birth and grim continuity.
A dense, dark, impressively controlled first work. Not for optimists.