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Jonathan Raban Novel Set in Future

Jonathan Raban Novel Set in Future

Jonathan Raban: "Surveillance" is set in Seattle sometime in the near-future. It's hot. The rain isn't the typical mist, but a hard fall. Water drives through roofs into homes.
The government is obsessed with security, with soldiers searching cars at highway checkpoints and Homeland Security holding disaster drills that put everyone on edge.
But maybe the point of the measures is to put everyone at such a level of fear that they will accept greater government intrusion.
At the heart of the story are a single mother and magazine writer, Lucy Bengstrom, her sixth-grade daughter Alida and neighbor Tad Zachary, an actor who serves as Alida's father figure.
Lucy lands an assignment writing a profile of a former professor, August Vanags, who wrote a best-selling memoir about growing up during the Holocaust. Her research makes Lucy suspect something unpleasant about the professor.
Meanwhile, Lucy's landlord takes an unnatural interest in her.
There are two levels of surveillance in the book. Foremost is the police state-style inspections and their threat to civil liberties. The criticism of the measures is largely voiced by Tad in passages that might as well be the author's footnote. "You think you're living in a democracy, then one morning you wake up and realize it's a fascist police state, and it's been that way for years," Tad tells Lucy.
Vanags, meanwhile, supports an aggressive government. His experience with Nazis convinces him that it is necessary to confront evil.
"I think the situation we're in now's as bad as 1939 _ worse, in a way. The world has changed. People have got to wake up to the complexity, the scale, the global nature of what's happening," he tells Lucy during one of her interviews.
The second level of surveillance is the personal snooping: the landlord's musing on the razor in Lucy's bathroom, Lucy sending for information that could expose the professor. Just as the various schemes are about to climax, an earthshaking event changes everything.
In Lucy, Tad and the others, Raban has crafted believable characters readers can care about _ Lucy's love for her Spider convertible, Alida's questions about her father, Tad's late nights on the Internet, the professor's affection for his doddering wife.
The characters give voice to Raban's politics, to his belief that the war on terror has led to a surveillance society. And the real surprise to "Surveillance" is that Raban's characters hijack the vehicle for his political point of view and drive off to a soap opera.
The characters are stronger than the author's message because the criticism of government surveillance is largely voiced as Tad's rants.
On the other hand, the probing into personal privacy could drastically alter the characters' lives. Lucy seems to be on the verge of breaking a best-selling author into a million pieces, something that would destroy his reputation and build her career. Tad digs for secrets about the landlord that could be used to extort a break on the lease.
The big issues are important and deserve attention, but it's the personal ones that linger in the mind.


Updated : 2021-10-20 05:12 GMT+08:00