Although told from 250 years in the future, the main part of this book deals with a Cambridge-educated North London architect (Harry), and his relationship with a hairdresser from a small town in Norfolk who left school at 16 (Michelle).
When I described this to my friend Ian, his immediate reaction was ‘well, that would never happen’. You’d need to read the book to judge whether he was necessarily right, but it’s interesting, I think, that such a relationship seems so unlikely. I’m sure he wouldn’t have reacted in that way, if for example, I’d said the book was about a relationship between Harry and another architect who had, say, an Indian Hindu background. Nothing particularly unlikely about that. Which suggests to me that the cultural gap between different ‘cultures’ is actually smaller than the cultural gap between different classes.
Over much of my lifetime there was a kind of alliance between Harry’s class (which is also my own) -the liberal professional class- and the working class, both of which tended to vote Labour (just as both tended to vote Democrat in the US). In recent years, and notably in the Brexit vote, that alliance has fallen apart. Isn’t that what we really mean by the rise of ‘populism’? And that was the background against which I wanted to foreground Michelle and Harry’s relationship.
Two Tribes is out in paperback this week, so here’s a short post to celebrate. (More info about the book here.)
This is a book with a simple moral, which (adapting Solzhenistyn) could be summed up as ‘The line between good and evil does not pass between those who like the European Union and those who don’t.’
Or: ‘It’s a mistake to assume you’re one of the good guys, just because you and your friends think you are. Pretty much everyone thinks their lot are the good guys.’
Or: ‘Just because someone doesn’t agree with you about politics, doesn’t make them a monster.’
Although mainly set in the aftermath of Brexit, it isn’t really about Brexit. It’s about social class, and specifically about the complicated relationship between the liberal middle classes and the working classes in Britain, and the way that relationship is changing.
I’m very proud of it.
Here’s another moral. ‘When there is more than one elite, each elite condemns the elitism of the others, but denies its own.’
I’m looking forward to being a guest at a book group in Alaska this weekend. I won’t be physically present obviously (I wish I could be, the people who have invited me live in a place that looks absolutely amazing – see below). I’ll be joining them by Zoom.
For me getting used to meeting people via video link has been one of the upsides of the pandemic. It’s a technology that’s been around for some time, but I would never have thought of using it before this year. Yet, I’m not just using it as a substitute for meeting people in the flesh, I’m taking part in social events that previously wouldn’t have happened at all.
If you have a book group that’s meeting by Zoom and are looking at one of my books, feel free to contact me via this site.
‘This tricksy, elliptical study in liberal unease.’ Simon Ings’s Book of the Month, The Times
‘A fractured narrative for fractured times, Tomorrow is cool without being cold; distant and devastatingly personal.’ Jamie Buxton, Daily Mail
‘Clever, compelling and kaleidoscopic.’ Joanne Owen, Lovereading
‘Beckett has delivered more than a novel, but an experience to dive into, to be submerged by, to float on the surface of, to be carried away on the narrative flow of something different from one of the best speculative writers around.’ Ian Hunter, Concatenation.
A would-be author has taken time out from life in the city to live in a cabin by a river and write a novel.
And not just any novel. A novel that will avoid all the pitfalls and limitations of other novels, a novel that will include everything.
first these new surroundings are so idyllic that it’s hard to find the
motivation to get started. And then, in all its brutality, the outside
Ranging constantly backwards and forwards in time and space, and set in a country where no one has ever been, Tomorrow becomes a restless search for meaning in a precarious and elusive world.
I have no problem with the statue of Edward Colston being rolled into Bristol harbour, or with the removal of statues of Cecil Rhodes, who did so much to extend and cement white supremacy in Southern Africa. But I’m curious as to why so much more heat seems to be generated by colonialism and slavery in the past than by colonialism and slavery that is still going on in the present.
There are creditable reports that a million members of the Uighur minority in China are being held in concentration camps. (If the figure is accurate that would amount to about 8% of the entire Uighur population of China). A leaked Chinese government memo gives orders that the camps should:
“Never allow escapes”
“Increase discipline and punishment of behavioural violations”
“Promote repentance and confession”
“Make remedial Mandarin studies the top priority”
“Encourage students to truly transform”
“[Ensure] full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots”
And there are reports too of forced Uighur labour being used in factories that export goods to the west and that famous brands such as Apple, Nike and Adidas are using suppliers which are implicated in this form of slavery.
The slavery in the Americas and the Caribbean that ended in the nineteenth century was sustained not just by slave-traders and plantation owners, but also by the consumers who continued to buy products such as sugar and cotton that were harvested by enslaved people. We wonder now how people could have sweetened their coffee with sugar they knew to be harvested by slaves, or put on beautiful clothes made from cotton that slaves had picked under the lash, but it looks like we are doing essentially the same thing now. I daresay even some of those who pulled down the statue of Edward Colston owned an Apple phone (as I do myself) or were wearing Nike or Adidas shoes.
Easier perhaps for us to be outraged about injustices in which we were not personally implicated than to recognise our complicity in oppression that is happening now.
If there is a God… and on the whole I think there is… then all revealed religions are blasphemy. For that reason, I often refer to myself as an atheist. But it has to be said that atheism, on the whole, is superstitious twaddle.