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Sebastian Faulks: A Trick of the Light

This is Faulks’ first book and, frankly, it shows. It isn’t a bad book but it has those artifices and lack of direction and control that often typify first novels. George Grillet is half French, half English. He has been brought up in France and works in a winery there. His affair with Thérèse has gone sour after she has an abortion and, to get over his distress, he goes to London for a while to stay with his sister, Françoise who has made her home in England with her husband, Alan, and two children, Bernadette and Peter. He soon moves and gets a room with Susan, a left-winger who has just broken up with her boyfriend. Together with her mysterious journalist friend, Wyn Douglas, she persuades the incredibly naïve George to break into a magazine and steal a cassette, apparently containing the names of nice people whose lives might be compromised. Why doesn’t Wyn do the break-in? His excuse is that he is known to the authorities but, if he is not going to be caught, why should that be a problem? Why doesn’t Susan do it? Never explained.

Of course, the whole thing goes wrong (of course), though not in the way you might imagine. Philip, George’s boss (he is temporarily teaching English) who, unbeknown to George, is gay, hears the tape and erases it and the recipients who are not, of course, nice liberal journalists but nasty terrorists, are pissed. The consequences for George and Philip are dire.

As well as fairly predictable asides on liberal left-wingers and terrorists (presumably the IRA or similar), Faulks addresses a few themes that will appear in his later books – commitment, how the past never lets go, how innocent victims are all too often sucked into politics, the problems of loyalty to a country for those who have two nationalities and, more particularly, how countries or, at least England and France, are as much states of mind as geographical areas.

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