Chris Petit's novel Robinson
triumphs as a portrayal of a life spiralling out of control and of the bleak anonymity of the city of London. His narrator, bored and indifferent to domesticity and the dead rituals of office life, meets the enigmatic Robinson and falls under his curious charm.
It is interesting, though not essential to the enjoyment of the novel, to know a little of the history of Robinson the literary character. He seems to first turn up in 1932 in Louis-Ferdinand Céline's masterpiece, Journey to the End of the Night. He then goes underground for a while before emerging over a decade later in the strange and electrifying poems of Weldon Kees. Another disappearance, along with Kees's own, a gap of a further 30 years or so, and Robinson emerges in the poetry of Simon Armitage.
Petit has used the slowly emerging Robinson mythos to good advantage, adding and building on it, creating a novel that h as much in common with the tone of Céline and the Kees poems; here also is a novel that journeys through the night. Robinson is beguiling, mysterious, strangely familiar, charming, deceitful, dangerous, tragic and wilful. Petit's narrator slowly allows himself to be sucked into Robinson's seedy world, permitting Robinson's will to manipulate his own. He becomes a willing sidekick to Robinson's increasingly dangerous and depraved enterprises.
Petit intended the novel to be set in the near future and certain parts of the later stages of the novel read like Briti sh news summaries from the autumn of 2000. It is a credit to Petit's keen eye for all that is monstrous and messy in British society that this is so. It is also slightly worrying, for one is left with the nasty feeling that some of the other dark events he has imagined might also lurk up and intrude on our daily lives. --Iain Robinson
About the Author
Chris Petit is a novelist and film-maker. His work in film includes 'Radio On', 'Chinese Boxes' and (with lain Sinclair) 'The Cardinal and the Corpse', 'The Falconer and Asylum' and a forthcoming film on the M25. He has also written The Psalm Killer (1997) and Back From the Dead (1999). He lives in London.