THE CATASTROPHIST by Ronan Bennett

THE CATASTROPHIST

KIRKUS REVIEW

Irish writer Bennett’s third novel but first to appear here: a despairing but acute examination of a souring love affair and its ambiguous effect on certain nefarious characters pushing the Belgian Congo toward independence. Dour, alienated Irish novelist James Gillespie comes to the Belgian Congo in 1959 to renew affections with his Italian lover Inäs, an idealistic reporter for an Italian Communist journal who has been apart from him long enough for Gillespie to sense that there may be another taking his place. At first Gillespie is content to follow Inäs as she flits happily from boozy white-upperclass cocktail parties to the stinking, grimly impoverished black quarter of LÇopoldville. Careless of quotes, facts, on-site research and anything else that would jeopardize her one-sided reportage of Belgian exploitation, Inäs drifts ever closer to the camp of independence advocate Patrice Lumumba, the same man favored by easy-going American diplomatic attachÇ, Mark Stipe. Though Inäs warns Gillespie that Stipe is a CIA agent, Gillespie, after being flattered that Stipe may have actually read one of his novels, lets the agent feed him information that the novelist incorporates into a series of unnaturally prescient magazine articles about the independence movements. These bring Gillespie a small degree of money and fame, but they alienate Inäs, sending Gillespie into bouts of dark depression. She mocks him as a catastrophist(a person for whom every change is an absolute disaster) and takes up with Stipe’s African chauffeur, Auguste, a Lumumba supporter far wiser than he seems; then eventually, when Lumumba flirts with Communism, she dumps Stipe altogether. Gillespie beds the blasÇ wife of a Belgian industrialist, pines for Inäs, but finishes his novel—when Inäs appears suddenly on his doorstep asking that he help smuggle her, Auguste, and Lumumba out of the country. A relentlessly downbeat portrait of the artist as a whiney, self-pitying failure. Lightened with spicy sex scenes and absurdist accounts of colonialism at the edge of extinction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-86334-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999




MORE BY RONAN BENNETT

FictionZUGZWANG by Ronan Bennett
by Ronan Bennett
FictionHAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR by Ronan Bennett
by Ronan Bennett