A couple journey to the heart of Europe to unravel the roots of nationalism in this luminous upheaval of culture and history
After Pollard and Darkling, Laura Beatty’s third novel – if novel it be, for it regularly feels like something stranger and more elusive – opens in a harsh version of contemporary London. It is a “make-or-break place of thieves and cutthroats”, with street sleepers beneath glittering towers, and humanity nowhere recognisable. The narrator, a novelist, begins by reimagining the city as Dante’s dark wood, and is clearly herself in a state of florid breakdown: unhinged by her country’s divisions, talking to herself, imagining a bag lady on her doorstep to be one of her own characters from a previous book come to taunt her by singing “Rule Britannia!”
Though it hangs oppressively over the narrative, the word Brexit appears only once, halfway through the book, on the lips of a drunken Englishman in a Marseille bar: “Brexit ay oon day sastre.” This feels appropriate. Although it is the invisible enemy the narrator seeks to evade, to battle and to understand, it is not the whole story.