THE SELKIRK STRIP by Ferdinand Mount


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Comic self-awareness, traditionally a strong point among British writers, makes a seasick transatlantic crossing here--in a satire of upper-middle-class Londoners and English foreign policy as played out in a pathetic sort of Falklands crisis. Aldous Cotton, an undersecretary in the Central Operational Coordinating Unit for Policy Appraisal, is a family man and quiet member of a small circle of friends. He and his wife are visited by a strange distant relative, Alan Breck Stewart, who once served on Mountbatten's staff, where he devised a secret weapon called Breck's Broomstick, which never made it out of the design stage. Cotton cronies take Allan in, for he provides an understated kind of sympathy to friends who've recently lost a daughter; a little homosexual companionship to a married neighbor; and harmlessly eccentric dinner chat. Then a negligible British holding called the Selkirk Strip is taken over by the Third World country of Mogana, and it's suspected that an agent named Bristow has passed information to the aggressors, making the surprise takeover possible. At the office, Aldous spends his time supplying top brass with ""carefully illuminated options in which we nuanced the milder possibilities"" for British response. At home, he watches as his friends' marriages break up. In the end, it turns out that Alan is both the marriage-breaker and inadvertent Moganese information source. He commits suicide, leaving Aldous with the plans for the precious Breck Broomstick. Mount has good ideas and a prolix kind of wit, but his satire is diluted by the split domestic/political focus. And, above all, this is so eccentrically British that about as many will love it as crave kippers.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1988
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles