Top critical review
Needs a Hero
on 18 July 2011
RAGE is a tautly written thriller with pretensions to being more than it actually is. The story concerns a British Army officer named Jonah Said who is in disgrace after colluding in the kidnapping and beating of the man who cuckolded him. He is sent to "The Zone", a strip of international no-mans-land between Kuwait and Iraq, on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to work for the UN. There he learns of the existence of a shipping container abandoned and forgotten during the 1991 war, which contains something of huge importance. Various factions pursue it and him as the action leaps to Baghdad and the last days of Saddam's Iraq.
The set up for this thriller is excellent, with The Zone, providing a superb setting and a number of interesting interested parties. The action is breathless and provided you don't stop you can dash through this and be very satisfied. But if you do stop you start to notice problems. Jonah has no motivation for most of the book, there are gaping plot holes and the whole thing draws further and further away from its realistic beginning until by the end it is very nearly a James Bond affair with a lunatic villain plotting to destroy the world for some barely-explained nonsensical reason.
There are a number of other problems, such as the over-abundance of characters, but the main one is simply that Jonah is a pretty lousy hero. For a start he is a soulless creature. Born in the US to a Guyanese mother and a Palestinian father but with British citizenship he is without religious belief, ideological loyalty or national identity. He stands for and believes in nothing but himself, which makes him seem rather selfish. It also strips him of any higher motivation. Perhaps that is realistic but I found him unlikeable. He is also too passive for an action hero, being dragged or led around for most of the novel.
As the novel goes on (and on - for 400 pages, 100 too many) the flaws become more obvious. In particular, as another reviewer here has noted, this book has unsuccessful pretensions to be more than another ultra-modern thriller. There is plenty of rather turgid philosophising on religion, politics and the post 9/11 world. It may be unfair to do so but a comparison with a genuinely insightful book like Roger Scruton's THE WEST AND THE REST (non-fiction admittedly) reveals just how facile this book is.