What Conrad Kn(o)(e)w(s) About Dostoyevsky, Kipling, and AQ

According to the New Yorker, anyway, and its reviewer, James Wood. Wood does something interesting in his review of two recent bits of fiction, Peter Carey’s His Illegal Self (Knopf) and Hari Kunzru’s My Revolutions (Dutton) – "both set in the radical underground of late-sixties and and early-seventies agitation," both featuring characters "who find themselves politically trapped" in the same kind of "sticky web of accident" that trumped the pornographer Verloc of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Wood notes that "recent American fiction dealing with Islamic terrorists has shown more interest in the fanatic than in the failure, in resolution than in irresolution, and a certain human complexity has been sacrificed." He references the liminal banality (banal liminality?) of Conrad’s Victorian anarchist underground to suggest "necessary novelistic transferences, displacements from contemporary ideological radicalism" are at play:  neither book "is by an American – Carey is Australian and Kunzru British – and neither is about Islamic terrorists". More, "The novels share an interest in the slow rotting of the ideological harvest, and in the way that eventual political failure was birthed by the very exaggeration of political success."

Wood, James. "Notes From the Underground: Fugitive Lives by Peter Carey and Hari Kunzru." New Yorker (3 March 2008), p. 79.

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