Denis Johnson: The Stars at Noon
Johnson’s first novel was certainly bleak and grim but this novel strives and probably succeeds in matching its predecessor for bleakness and grimness. It is set in Nicaragua in 1984. The narrator is a woman, masquerading as a journalist though, at the beginning, the Sub-Tenente, after having sex with her, confiscates her press card and letter of authority. Is she working for a shadowy organisation, called Eyes for Peace? Like everything else in this book, we never really know. When asked why she is there, she responds I wanted to know the exact dimensions of Hell. She is well off, thanks to a smart black market deal in Nicaraguan cordobas, supplemented by occasional paid sex. She picks up a weak Englishman, also masquerading as a journalist but, in fact, working for an oil company but, as there has been a double-cross, there is a Costa Rican group after him. The pair join together, first in the conspiracy and then as lovers. For Johnson and the narrator, everything is hellish and it gets worse when they are pursued by various bad guys, Nicaraguans, CIA, Costa Ricans. It is never entirely clear who is who and who is on whose side, though it does seem that everyone is against the narrator and her Englishman. It is all entirely murky, as grim if not more so than Angels and leaves you at the end with a nasty taste in your mouth.
First published 1986 by Knopf