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Nicholas Mosley: Natalie Natalia

This book got several glowing reviews and even a comment that it was the best of his novels but, I am afraid, it did not really work for me. It is narrated by Anthony Greville, a Member of Parliament, who is clearly not happy with his job. Indeed, he is looking for a way out, as he feels that politics is dishonest and does not lead to positive change. He is, as he says, ashamed. He considers pretending to be an alcoholic so that will give him an excuse to get out but people, instead of condemning him, treat him sympathetically. He is an expert on Central Africa (which, in this book, is a country) and even goes there to visit Ndoula, a freedom fighter who has been imprisoned.

His personal life is also somewhat in disarray. He is married to Elizabeth and they have two children but the family spends most of the time in the country, enabling him to carry on his affair with Natalia. Natalia is married to a fellow M.P., Edward, who is also having various affairs, though it is Edward who will sue for divorce. He sees two sides to Natalia – the angelic angel, whom he calls Natalia and the ravenous angel, whom he calls Natalie. Despite this dichotomy in her character, which is clearly seen as important, as it is the title of the book, we do not see too much of it. His relationship with his wife is generally seen as good, though she is somewhat remote. When he is at home, they try to avoid visitors, to the extent of climbing out of the window and hiding in the garden when visitors are seen approaching. There is one hilarious example of this. In Churchillian fashion, he is building a brick wall. He is too slow at laying the bricks, so the cement often hardens before he can use it. One day, when he is building his wall, he sees visitors approaching. He lies down behind the wall and Elizabeth soon joins him. Unfortunately, he starts having sex with her, which attracts the attention of the visitors.

But where this book loses me is his style of writing. Greville is something of a pompous man and his narration is often in a pompous style. More particularly, Mosley has written large segments in a stream of consciousness style, giving Greville’s thoughts and impressions. Sometimes this can work. Here it just seems awkward and cumbersome and makes for difficult reading, as he jumps from one impression to a thought and then to a fantasy, without really enhancing the narrative flow. In part, this is because Greville is not a sympathetic character, so we do not really care what he thinks or feels. It is, perhaps, an interesting attempt but, ultimately, it is, for me, a failure.

Publishing history

First published 1971 by Hodder & Stoughton