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Star, London, 1974
(price: 40p; 140 pages)

originally published by WH Allen, 1974

The blurb on the back:

Martin is a young, bored librarian with a humorously unadventurous sex life. He feels nothing save a few nagging doubts that perhaps this isn’t all that life has to offer him...
Then, suddenly, the catalytic news that. he is to be devoured by a cancerous growth shatters his complacency. Martin looks about him. Everyone seems mean, ugly, nothing to do with him—They are alive!
With his maniacally single-minded logic he rapidly hits on the only wholly seductive solution that will mark his life in the history books and make him the most wanted and potentially most dangerous man in the country...

opening lines:

He had heard them, understood them. All the same, the words mean nothing. It was the man’s face that held him. Martin looked at that. It was a picture.

This is a nice, straightforward little novel. The protagonist is a familiar type from case studies of serial killers and wannabe Fuhrers, the under-achieving lower-middle-class young male with a sense of frustrated destiny - ‘He’d always had this inner feeling that he really, honestly, was special, that one day he’d be singled out.’ (p.6) And now he has been: diagnosed with cancer, he’s given just 18 months to live by his doctor.

So how best to spend his last remaining time on Earth? How to mark his mark? Well, obviously he should assassinate someone, secure in the knowledge that the law won’t be able to extract its full revenge on him.

If this were an American novel, I suspect it’d be full of ruminations on Nietzsche’s will to power and of analysis of the hardware necessary for an assassination. But, being British, it’s more concerned with trying to fit such a major undertaking into the mundane world of working at a South London library and keeping one’s clingy girlfriend satisfied. This is a man who ‘had eighty pounds in the Post Office. A bit more, allowing for the interest that hadn’t been marked up yet.’ (p.62) The resolute lack of glamour is really quite appealing.

Equally British is the choice of target for the killing. Bobby Moore and Kevin Keegan are on the short-list, but ideally our anti-hero wants international acclaim, and he figures that football won’t make the headlines in America. And being the Britain of the mid-70s, there’s one obvious choice:

Of course old Enoch was the one to go for really. Enoch was really the one. Only you couldn’t bump off the one bloke in the country who told it like it was. Not when you came right down to it. Coming right down to it, Enoch was dead right, logical, and if you knocked him off it would be unfair. Besides which it would leave the way open for all the wogs and their black tide to come sweeping in more than ever. (pp.28-29)

It’s a rare sighting of politics in the book, but it is indicative of the mood of the times. This may be a man with no conscious politics, but the sense of unrealised greatness leads one naturally on to the champion of ‘the pendulum’s swung too far’ politics.

I know nothing about Mr Fowles, but the British Library lists another three books by him: Dupe Negative (1970), Double Feature (1972) and Rough Trade (1981). Probably worth a try, I reckon, ‘cos this is a nice little thriller.


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