Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Crack - Emma Tennant

Originally published as The Time of the Crack, this is deceptively light and simple, an intriguing product of the early 1970s. I had read extracts before now (chapters from a work in progress), but this is the first time I’ve read the whole thing – a surreal tale of how the southern part of England breaks away and sinks into the sea.

It is not a disaster story of either the Wyndham or the Ballard schools, but a whimsical, Carrollian, acid-fuelled romp. Set in London, the Thames runs dry and a huge crack appears, hills are thrust up, buildings distort and transform, troops of academics and psychoanalysts roam the streets. The plot, such as it is, hangs around several characters, the most important being Baba, the only bunny left at the Playboy Club.

Beneath the whimsy, however, there is a darker tale at play. There are hints with the fun that is made of trends and types of people, stripped pine kitchens, reversion therapy, capitalism, well-off middle-class eco-warriors, self-absorbed academics who argue about competing theories when reality proves them all to be wrong – all come in for a swift kicking. Yet these vignettes, when taken as a whole, show the very fertile soil into which society has sown the seeds of its own destruction.

As well as a deceptively simple content, there is a style to match. Straightforward, tightly written and constructed, the text goes to prove you can tell a good story and convey deep ideas with the simplest of language. The book is not partisan or polemical. It tells an amusing tale. But like the fairy tales that focus on the jolly goings-on in the sunlit woodland glade, you are also aware of the surrounding darkness of the forest, of the panting of wolves as they wait their chance.