Courttia Newman has written a novel in which lots goes on. It’s an alternative future history of London and by implication the UK and Africa too. There’s family history, romance and revolution, multiverses and astral projection. At times there’s so much going on that you wonder whether Newman can keep a hold on all the strands he’s set in motion.
We start in a dystopian future London – in which the city is divided into two. Makriss is a talented student whose excellence buys him a Golden Ticket from the outer lands into the Ark, the city within a city populated by the elite. Fast forward a few years and Makriss is a journalist writing puff pieces, playing up the ferocity of protesters in the lowest ranks of the Ark and writing pieces supporting the regime. Gradually, through a combination of wanting to impress girls, and political debate, he is sucked into an underground uprising.
If this sounds so dystopia so normal Newman throws in some pretty unique themes into the mix. The first is a complete decolonisation of Britain and Africa: in this London African culture, cosmology and religion are as natural as Christianity. So complete is this process that brilliantly characters can call on African gods without the reader having any idea of the colour of their skin. The second theme – the ability of the spirit to leave the body and enter other realms. The level of detail and scientific approach to this unlikely approach to space travel recalls Ian Watson’s seventies novels such as Alien Embassy and God’s World. I won’t spoil the plot by leaving another big theme which is unveiled in the last section of the book – but it casts the previous 300 pages in a completely new light.
There was lots I liked about this book: Makriss’ struggles with his own thoughts and instincts feel very real; and for those who know south London there’s some unexpected callbacks. The first 100 pages sets up the key conflicts and characters, and the last third provides surprises and prompts reflection. If I had a criticism it is that it does sag in the middle and Newman sometimes left this reader unsure of which multiverse Makriss was currently in. It’s at times not an easy read, but Newman has by the end led Makriss to some uncomfortable truths about the nature of the Ark (and caused us to reflect on the injustices of our own world).
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Yaa Gyasi, Coleson Whitehead, Octavia Butler
One thing you’ve learned
Well I enjoyed reconnecting with The Brixton Ritzy, Clapham Pcturehouse….at this time they sound unbelievably exotic.