THE VOLUNTEERS by Raymond Williams


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First published in Great Britain in 1978, this is a dense, turgid novel of futuristic politics from Cambridge don Williams, author of numerous cultural and semantic studies, as well as three other novels, only one of which has been published in the US (Border Country, 1962). The place is a bleak Great Britain, the time is the near future. Lewis Radfern, the narrator, is an apolitical analyst of and reporter on underground radical groups for Insatel, an enormous ""news and events"" media service that works hand and glove with a sinister and repressive government, although representative democracy is at least still nominally in force in England. After a Welsh miner is killed by the army during a strike, on orders of Cabinet Minister Buxton, and Buxton is himself wounded in an assassination attempt a short time later, Redfern goes out sniffing for connections, and comes up with a vague, international group called the Volunteers, liberal right-thinkers who are infiltrating conservative governments all over the world, waiting for The Moment. In spite of himself, Redfern (an ex-radical) is sympathetic, particularly when he meets Mark Evans, a former MP who is leader of the Volunteers in Britain, and who is willing to risk all for political change. His empathy for Evans grows stronger when it turns out he wasn't responsible for the Buxton shooting, which was pulled off by his estranged sort, David, the leader of a radical left faction within the Volunteers When Redfern learns the government is about to crack down on the organization, he warns Evans, quits Insatel, and agrees to testify against Buxton at an inquiry into the death of the Welsh miner, using damaging information provided by Evans and the Volunteers. All in all, less a novel than e prosaic, political tract, far more concerned with theory than action or characterization. The Volunteers are an idealized abstraction rather than a flesh-and-blood group; all real drama, in any event, is lost in the slow tangle of Williams' prose: ""Each event and other events were connected, and must be connected, to a wider action. . . Meanwhile, from a different position, other connections were being run.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1986
Publisher: Hogarth--dist. by Merrimack