Becker’s novel, republished from 1995, imagines an alternate political reality.
Becker is a lifelong student of history and terrorism, both domestic and abroad, so it’s no surprise that her novel isn’t a fairy tale. As a self-anointed “atheist conservative,” it’s nigh on impossible to separate her politics from her prose. That said, having authored the popular Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhoff Terrorist Gang, there was little worry that her follow-up would be superbly engrossing. For a thick, dyspeptic tome that takes on the ratiocinations of philosophical heavyweights like Bataille, Foucault, Sartre and, most tellingly, the Hungarian aesthete Lukács, Becker’s premise here is remarkably simple and forthright: What would’ve happened, post-1979, if Labour Party radicals had instead vanquished Margaret Thatcher? As expected, coming from the founder of the now-defunct Institute for the Study of Terrorism, plenty of the world would have been sent asunder. Writing from the year 2023, the fictional historian Bernard Gill pieces together the “true,” declassified story of Louis “L” Zander—the supreme leader of the brutal but short-lived Red Republic of England (1987–1989). L conscripted the private militia of his archrival, the neo-Nazi stalwart Edmund Foxe, and enacted unspeakable atrocities on the good people of the Isle, plunging a once powerful, prosperous nation into Marxist misery. Often, however, that brutal existence is painted with too heavy a hand. It’s difficult even for a prodigious talent like Becker to shoulder the ideological burdens inherent to historical dystopia, and the flashback technique here makes this telling more problematic and less compelling. And yet, for voters anywhere in the political spectrum, that’s not enough reason to keep from reading on. As always, Becker’s chief concern is for humanity itself: “May the story of L be a warning to all those who would trade in their freedom for a mirage of security under a paternalistic state led by a charismatic would-be dictator.” The radical fear is amplified by its believability—or worse, its recent arrival.
An election-year must-read.