James Gillespie, Irish by origin, arrives in Léopoldsville in the hope of saving his relationship with Inès Sabiani, an Italian journalist increasingly involved in central African nationalist politics. James, "the trained observer", watches dispassionately from the wings, mystified by the politics of commitment to a political cause, but desperate for personal love and commitment from Inès. She, however, is lost to him, but found to the cause of the overthrow of the colonial occupation of the Belgian Congo. The impasse at the heart of their love affair hinges upon the dilemma between the politics of belief and the role of art in society. This is summed up by the fact that while Inès uses her journalistic skills as an instrument of political struggle, James believes writing is the art of disbelief. As Inès remarks: "Politics of that sort demands conviction, fiction demands doubt."
The Catastrophist, justly shortlisted for the 1998 Whitbread Novel Award, is an insightful and patient study of masculine self-delusion that--even better--shows the good sense to keep it's distance from overplaying it's narrative claims to insight into Inès' psychology. In fact, this novel derives much of its psychological realism precisely from its depiction of the pain and confusion of a man who cannot understand why a woman can say "I am still loving you", but not be able to give up her life for him. --Rachel Holmes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
One afternoon, James is attending a party in an elegant colonialist house; the next, he finds himself being shot at, tortured, and lied to -- by the Congolese, by the CIA, and by Ine s herself. Even in the midst of it all, he sees these events as 'the stuff of farce, not tragedy'; that they are in fact both is the success of Bennett's unusual story.