Washington Post on Henry Porter's novel

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
4 February 2010

There's a great review of Henry's book just out in the Washington Post by Patrick Anderson. Here is a taster:


English journalist Henry Porter's "The Bell Ringers" (published in England last year as "The Dying Light") is one of many novels that have attempted to update "Nineteen Eighty-Four" -- and one of the more impressive. But while Orwell offered a worst-case scenario of what could happen 35 years in the future, Porter is writing about what, as he sees it, is already starting to happen. He declares in an afterword to his novel, "I have not made anything up: the law is all there, ready and waiting . . . a fact that very few people in Britain perhaps appreciate." He has in mind not only the reality of England's ubiquitous surveillance cameras, but laws making possible "the suspension of travel, seizing of property, forced evacuation, special courts and arbitrary detention and arrest." In Porter's fictional England, a cynical and ruthless -- but outwardly genial -- prime minister named John Temple is creating "an utterly new species of vindictive technological totalitarianism."...


... early action takes place in a rural community where people are being harassed for refusing to carry the new national ID card. They are the "bell ringers" -- people who do ring bells in church but also are secretly fighting to protect civil liberties. The prime minister, Temple, wants to call a new election to consolidate his power, but first he wants to crush the opposition. When an outbreak of red algae occurs in several reservoirs -- probably from natural causes -- Temple declares it a terrorist plot, suspends the constitution, and fills London with soldiers and detention camps. When one patriot insists that people won't tolerate mass arrests, another, more of a pessimist, says, "That's the pity of it . . . they'll think the government is protecting them. They'll be reassured." That, finally, is the question: Do people care?

This is a sophisticated, engrossing and important political thriller.... 

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