Ronan Bennett writes screenplays for television and film as well as novels. His third book, The Catastrophist
, set in the Belgian Congo during the decolonisation struggles of 1959 to 1960, imprints a cinematic vision on the reader's eye, rendering images of indolent colonials blinded by the African sun to the realities of African decolonisation and the momentum of the Congolese independence movement led by the resolute Patrice Lumumba.
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 In&eobtuse;s 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 In&eobtuse;s' 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
'A mighty achievement... vision, imagination and gravitas' (Times)
'A writer to watch, a genuine and gifted novelist' (Cole Moreton, Independent)
'As lush and sensual as ripe mangoes' (Financial Times)
'I have not read such a good thriller in years' (Ian Thomson, Evening Standard)
'Compelling... the power of this fine novel lies in its detached subtlety.... a memorable book with a ring of deeply felt authenticity' (Hugo Hamilton, Sunday Tribune)