Tuesday, June 07, 2011

35. Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin

Well I tore through this book! A very clever and enjoyable black murder comedy that puts Dibdin back up to the top of my charts again (after the less enjoyable Thanksgiving). The book is written in the form of a confession by a British expat living in some unnamed banana republic pleading for his innocence to avoid extradition back to Britain for murder. His argument, convincingly told, is that while he is guilty of many crimes and ethical lapses, murder is not one of them.

His story is an enjoyable one, told by him with a joie-de-vivre and certain objectivity (that becomes more damning as the book goes one). He is a member of the educated, upper classes who spent too long not making practical decisions and ended up still living in a shared, rented flat ("digs") and teaching english as a second language part time. He ends up meeting a bourgeois couple with terrible taste and social ambitions and almost accidentally begins to have an affair with the wife. Things get more complicated, leading to the protagonist being the center of at least two murder scandals and having to find various convoluted ways to get out of the hot seat. In doing so, his true moral core slowly reveals itself to the reader. He starts out as a slacker, quickly shows himself to be a cad, then a bounder, eventually a sociopath and finally to really just be straight out evil at the very end. It is all quite subtly done and the reader is carried along, sympathizing with the protagonist quite far into his bad behaviour so that you catch yourself realizing, holy shit this guy is truly awful!

The major theme of the book and the justification for his behaviour is the massive cultural shift in England during the Thatcher regime. The protagonist spent a lot of his younger life in the 80s living and working abroad and when he came back, he found the traditions of English class hierarchy cast aside for a new, aggressive, capitalist society. Worse, he was now in last place in this society. The narrative arc is as much about the protagonist adapting to the new society and finding a shortcut to finding his proper place, first financially and the socially: "I wanted the lifestyle which other people of my age and education enjoyed but which I had forfeited because of the wayward direction given my life by the humanistic propaganda I was exposed to in my youth." That gives a pretty good sense of the tone.

This was a highly enjoyable read. Dibdin really was a skilled writer as well as having a great perspective on the world. Faced with the bleakness that is post-Thatcher England, he responded with humour. Great stuff.

1 comment:

Louis XIV, 'The Sun King' (Nick Jones) said...

Drat. I saw a cheap first edition of this in a bookshop on Charing Cross Road but passed on it. Grr. But I did at least pick up a Zen novel in Cornwall, Dead Lagoon, so I've got some Dibdin to read.