All That Follows by Jim Crace

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All That Follows by Jim Crace

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Maximum or Lessing? More or less? Fight or flight? Politics or family? This near-future quasi-thriller explores a fundamental difference between two ways of being, expressed through two men. Lovely prose but the narrative buckled slightly under the weight of the central character's endless introspection.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Picador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0330445642

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Leonard Lessing is a sofa socialist. He avoids corporate brands both in food and in clothes. He abides by all the right-on boycotts. He signs petitions. He does free gigs at benefit concerts. He gives donations - you know the kind of thing. Once, eighteen long years ago in Texas in 2006, he came very close to some real direct action. But he bottled it. And now, the frozen-shouldered jazzman-on-sabbatical finds his less-than-glorious radical past catching up with him right there in his living room, on the TV. Maxie Lermon, he of Austin 2006 and no stranger to violent agitprop, is in the UK, just up the road from Leonard, and he's taken a family hostage as a protest against the upcoming Reconciliation Summit.

It's shocking. Leonard knows he should contact the authorities with the gunman's identity, but something holds him back. A chance, perhaps, to recover his mojo?

I thought this was quite a courageous book, given that its two antagonists are both so awful. Maxie is loud and boorish - perhaps too much so, since his background role allows for little in the way of nuance, and so he comes across as rather a caricature. Lennie is spineless and weak, navel-gazing his way into a self-image of reserved good manners - but in reality, his life is all about self-centredness and self-preservation. Perhaps this isn't a book about politics at all - perhaps it's about gender, because the only people in the book with any real depth and commitment, indeed any real emotional lives at all, are the women. Or perhaps I say that because I am a woman - I spent most of the book thinking If I were Francine, I wouldn't put up with that... If I were Nadia, I wouldn't put up with that. I can only live in hope that I wouldn't!

But Lennie does have self-awareness and his low-cost political gestures are as stark to him as they are to his readers - He carries an Amnesty credit card "Buy One, Set One Free". Ouch.

It's beautifully done in that gorgeous jingle-jangle prose of Crace's, which is utterly sublime - sometimes I even forget the sense of what I'm reading; it's all just so perfect and I get lost. Set in a near-future Britain, there are all sorts of sly, funny and alarming digs at current assaults on civil liberties and various bits of health fascism. There are some remarkable descriptions of jazz, and a wonderfully feisty, vivid young girl in Lucy, Maxie's estranged daughter, and Lennie's new friend. I loved her. Ultimately, though, it's about Lennie (Lessing) busily trying to prove less is more (than Maxie). I'm not so sure he managed it, but that doesn't mean I didn't love this book. The fairtrade banana in my Waitrose trolley is an unnervingly similar reminder of my own agitprop youth and current lurch towards wrinklehood. Sigh.

My thanks to the good people at Picador for sending the book.

I think you might like The Hidden by Tobias Hill for another portrait of a man who wants in but can't quite get there. The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod is a very different near-future thriller. You might also enjoy His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, for the equally wonderful prose.

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