SLOW HORSES by Mick Herron. First of a series of (checks Wikipedia) five novels and two novellas.
Here’s the deal. The Security Service, known popularly as MI5, sometimes can’t outright fire people. Political reasons, operational reasons. But it would still like to get rid of them. So it puts them in Slough House, a dismal set of offices intended to make those consigned there so miserable that they just quit. Those people are known as slow horses. Slough House, slow horse. Slough House is run by Jackson Lamb, himself a slow horse of mysterious provenance, an impressively offensive creature who looks a bit like Timothy Spall if you stuffed Timothy Spall with old pork fat and left him out in the rain for six weeks.
(Side note: Herron “casting” Lamb as Timothy Spall is, in its own way, as devious as Jeffrey Deaver describing Amelia Sachs in THE BONE COLLECTOR as an impossibly hot actress/supermodel, thereby creating the space for the inevitable casting of Angelina Jolie in the film version.)
Herron likes an odd name. The lens for the book is a new slow horse called River Cartwright, for example. Herron enjoys himself immensely with names, and also details. The one thing you’ll take away from this book is that Herron is writing only to amuse himself, and having a whale of a time doing it. The twists and tangles of the plot, involving right-wing extremists and about twenty bad choices, propelled me through the book at quite a clip, but I always paused to admire the amount of fun Herron was having. Boris Johnson, or a legally deniable version thereof, shows up halfway through, pretty much note-perfect, and he’s there largely so Herron can hate him.
It’s got a big crowd-pleasing third act, the complex weave of plot threads is handled very well, and it’s basically an extremely skilfully tailored entertainment. If you ever liked a spy novel or a crime novel, you’re going to kick back with this, have a good time and wonder why it’s not on tv with Timothy Spall.
Just arrived today, SPECTRES, from Shelter Press. Essays on composing and listening from, among many others, Félicia Atkinson, Stephen O’Malley, Jim O’Rourke, Eliane Radigue and Chris Watson. All essays presented in English and French. Details and ordering at this link here. Really looking forward to spending some time with this.
THE WORST IS YET TO COME by Peter Fleming does what it says on the tin. It’s a set of thoughts and survival tips on… well, it all starts when Fleming goes, as many people do, to view a cupboard that someone’s offering for rent as an apartment in London:
That awful apartment told me something. Neoliberal capitalism had probably run its course, spawning progeny it could no longer protect itself from. The constellation of possibilities that once flourished in cities like London had vanished. There were no antibodies left. Capitalism was undoing itself at nearly every turn. A kind of neo-Feudalism was on the march. Perhaps we were witnessing the birth of post-capitalism after all, not a clean and better alternative to the system, but (rather paradoxically) a much worse version of it, one that will make the “Trump Years” look like a tiptoe through the tulips.
My theory is this. Most advanced industrial societies have actually outlived the principles of capitalism and are busy transitioning into something else. It is still too early to say what that “something else” might be. But we do know the break won’t be clean. So the post-capitalist future we should prepare for will be no classless utopia. The worst features of capitalism will be amplified and applied reductio ad absurdum, coalescing around the return of preindustrial norms of authority and an incredible polarisation of wealth.
Donald Trump, Brexit, the impending environmental eco-blitz (or what NASA calls a “Type-L” collapse given the role played by elites) and the prospect of another Radiohead album give the appearance that things couldn’t possibly get worse. And yet, I disagree. They probably will.
It’s cheerful, yes. It’s also great fun to read, free of jargon, and very clear about where it’s coming from and where it’s going. It is, in some ways, a collation and re-statement of a lot of themes that have emerged over the last while, but it has new ideas too. I am very grateful for a book of this kind that does not also do one all over itself about the genius of Karl Marx. Also, goddamn, any work of political economics that talks about WG Sebald has my immediate vote.
(And makes me need to re-read Sebald’s magisterial THE RINGS OF SATURN for the umpteenth time.)
Fleming suggests speculative negativity and revolutionary pessimism as tools for surviving the shitstorm to come. The latter out of Sebald, the former out of object-oriented ontology.
Speculative negativity helps us divine the ghosts from the future that are now wandering among us. For example, look at Lethal Automated Weapons (or LAWs) and AI-equipped military technologies. If there is any innovation in the economy today, then it’s happening here.
Revolutionary pessimism anticipates the nastiest surprises that a derailed civilisation has to offer, yet refuses the cult of futility… Collective misery and individual optimism are just different sides of the same coin. Revolutionary pessimism inverts the formula (i.e., generalised optimism and individual unease) to forge a radical hopelessness.
He appends this to one section, possibly just for the hell of it:
Society needs to be de-Twitterised and experience a Twitter-winter.
I have to note that it is a perhaps surprisingly funny book. Which is just as well, given that it lays out how things are not likely to improve economically or politically in the short term. Think of it as a book-long “get your own oxygen mask on first and remember your training.” Except maybe a little grimmer than the tone I like to strike in the sign-off. Under the chapter about capitalism as cult, for example:
Cults will use anything to control their members, from the greatest pleasures to the most acute anxieties. Sometimes it’s best to feel nothing and go numb. Political wisdom is knowing when.
It’s a passionate, furious, self-aware and oddly funny book about the darkness ahead – and, as in James Bridle’s recent NEW DARK AGE, about the dawn after the dark.
And, as you may have noticed, insanely quotable:
The only way to retain your integrity when using a mobile app is to follow Joseph Conrad’s advice to the letter: “I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice”.