Friday, April 02, 2010
The Good Terrorist
I've wanted to read this 1985 Booker shortlisted novel by Doris Lessing but somehow never got around to it. When I saw it at The Book Depot I grabbed it and tore right through it. This is Margaret Thatcher's lean, mean London yet the story doesn't seem dated despite all that's happened on the terrorist front over the past 25 years.
Alice is the good terrorist of the title. She was raised in an upper middle class home but has been drawn into a life of squats, extreme politics and terror. It's not clear when the penny dropped and she saw her life of privilege as wrong; simply feeling emotionally neglected as a child doesn't explain why she has chosen the life of a Marxist squatter.
She mothers the other members of the commune, whips the squat into shape, negotiates with the council, utility companies and the police and makes soup for everyone. She takes the wounded under her wing and tries to make life better for everyone. She loves Jasper, a homosexual who not only doesn't love her back but also exploits her. Alice steals from her friends and family to make a home for an ever changing cast of revolutionary wannabes who are very loosely organized as the Communist Centre Union (CCU). She wants to draw attention to the cause but does not want to see innocent bystanders hurt. Other members of the group have no such qualms.
This is an indictment of a sub-culture of thirty-something middle class dilettantes with proletarian yearnings. Almost all the squatters are selfish and inconsiderate and take from Alice what they can without a second thought. Those who do otherwise (Phillip and Jim) become victims of a society in which decency is not rewarded.
The Good Terrorist illustrates in a very compelling way how an inept bunch of amateurs can drift almost casually into terrorism. They could be your neighbours or your family. That's a scary thought.