February’s highlights tackle big questions with a light touchby Amanda Craig / January 25, 2012 / Leave a comment
How important is money? It’s a question that preoccupies many of us in the turbulence of economic disaster, and this month’s books address it from different angles. Does money matter more than love, religious faith, memory or virtue?
The Street Sweeper (Faber, £14.99), the third novel by the Australian writer Elliot Perlman, has been generating much advance praise, and is being tipped as a contender for the Man Booker prize. A big, bold international work with a piercing moral sense, it follows the lives of three men, and encompasses aspects of the Holocaust, the seldom told story of African-American soldiers in the second world war and the birth of the American civil rights movement. As in his previous novel Seven Types of Ambiguity, Perlman’s unforced sympathy for characters who are not immediately attractive individuals is striking and enlightening. The story centres upon Lamont Williams, an African-American convict on probation, who becomes friends with an elderly Holo-caust survivor, Mandelbrot, in hospital. As their stories are interwoven with those of Adam Zignelik, a historian at Columbia University laid low by personal and professional crises, the novel illuminates the small acts of individual kindness, memory and compassion which must stand against the human capacity for cruelty and inhumanity. “Tell everyone what happened here,” is the novel’s refrain.
Alex Preston’s The Revelations (Faber, £12.99) satirises the sort of contemporary Christian cult that is as popular with bankers as with drifters. The charismatic David Nightingale promises followers of The Course spiritual enlightenment in exchange for chastity—but he is clearly just as interested in money. To a quartet of young, attractive people, each with personal problems ranging from a childless marriage to aimless lust, The Course appears to offer them a “crutch” to lean on until they find out who they are. Preston writes with black-edged wit about the kind of spoilt, confused young adults bred during the boom years, for whom luck has run out. If his debut, This Bleeding City caught some of the deadly emptiness of hedge fund trading, The Revelations is a more mature, tightly written exploration of the way spiritual yearning can become indistinguishable from the more destructive aspects of capitalism.
A very different kind of life is conjured up by Helen Dunmore’s novella The Greatcoat (Hammer, £9.99). Set in the 1950s, it concerns a young doctor’s wife, haunted by the ghost of a dead airman. An intelligent woman left to…