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The Catastrophist Paperback – 8 Apr 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; New Ed edition (8 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747260338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747260332
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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

Review

A mighty achievement... vision, imagination and gravitas (Times)

The Catastrophist Ronan Bennett - coverage to date

'Bennett's writing is as lush and sensual as ripe mangoes. His characters are complex and sympathetic. The tone, which is perfectly pitched, and the exotic setting collude to evoke an era of colonial decadence'
Financial Times 13th/14th June



A writer to watch, a genuine and gifted novelist (Cole Moreton, Independent)

As lush and sensual as ripe mangoes (Financial Times)

'The finding of a voice and what one says with it is central to The Catastrophist... Along with its politics The Catastrophist is an intensely erotic novel'
Linda Grant Guardian, Wednesday 17th June



'Bennett is a writer to watch, a genuine and gifted novelist'
Independent, Saturday 27th June



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)

'Bennett's knuckle-hard prose gives the region the clarity of a punch to the solar plexus. His Congans, far from being passive mutes, are both the rhetorical and satirical equals of the Belgians whose drinks trolleys they cart and whose floors they scrub. Conrad felt they existed outside of history - Bennett shows them engaged in transforming it.'
The Literary Review, July 1998



'Despite the African setting, The Catastrophist was obviously intended to explore some of the tensions and motivations in all similar conflicts - including Northern Ireland. Gillespie twice refuses invitations to write about what's going on in his homeland, and Bennett believes there has been a similar failure of nerve among writers of his own generation. "Most of the stuff that has been done about the North is grounded in the politics of compassion for the victims. I'm not saying there's no place for that, but fiction has been so affected by, overwhelmed by the death, the squalor, the sheer awfulness of it all, that it can't actually go beyond that, and ask, 'Why did this happen? Who are these characters? Why are they doing it?"'
Cole Moreton, Independent on Sunday, 28th June



'A mighty achievement. It has vision, imagination and gravitas. It does what only great novels do: it rises above itself; its themes transcend its narrative. The hero is immature, but the author is wise'
Mary Loudon, The Times 27th June



'This is a historical novel as well as a love story. But with the news from Congo continuing in the same vein nearly 40 years later, it has a lively currency... Like Muldoon, Bennett has gained a great deal by looking at political strife and engagement from a faraway place, from an oblique angle. To quote that poet's verse about Auden and Yeats, it may be the case that "history's a twisted root/ with art its small, translucent fruit/ and never the other way round" - but the fruit is beautiful and we see the branch better for looking through it'
Giles Foden, The Guardian 4th July
'This is a very well-written and well-researched novel by a writer who is able to maintain a tense and gripping atmosphere of political intrigue and erotic passion'
Harry Ritchie, Mail on Sunday 5 July



'The traditional understatement of William Trevor and John McGahern endures, and nowhere more obviously than in the work of Belfast born novelist, Ronan Bennett....evoke[s] a similar atmosphere and reflective tone to that of the American, Robert Stone.
Eileen Battersby, Irish Times 7 July



'An enthralling and thought-provoking book, presenting crucial questions of historical and political responsibility'
Times Literary Supplement, 9 July



'Take[s] the reader into one of the most exciting and tragic places on the earth'
Herald 9 July 1998



'Immensely promising... has been compared to some of Graham Greene's finest efforts, and I'm not going to argue with that'
Daily Mirror 10 July 1998



'A welcome reminder that it is still possible to write clearly, coherently and movingly... a great achievement, an impressive testament to the appeal of strong narrative and sympathetic characterisation'
Edward Smith Sunday Telegraph 12 July



'The book comes spotted with puffs suggesting that Ronan Bennett is the millennial Graham Greene, and for once they do not exaggerate... Bennett writes with the same brilliance, the same remarkably effective eroticism'
Sean McMahon, Irish IndependenThe Catastrophist Ronan Bennett - coverage to date



'This is a historical novel as well as a love story. But with the news from Congo continuing in the same vein nearly 40 years later, it has a lively currency... Like Muldoon, Bennett has gained a great deal by looking at political strife and engagement from a faraway place, from an oblique angle. To quote that poet's verse about Auden and Yeats, it may be the case that "history's a twisted root/ with art its small, translucent fruit/ and never the other way round" - but the fruit is beautiful and we see the branch better for looking through it'
Giles Foden, The Guardian 4th July
'This is a very well-written and well

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
...the book is about a apathetic, stranger's trip to Africa in the middle of upheaval. If the book lacks nuances of African culture it is because it is about an alien looking disinterestedly into this radically, different world. The book may be dense but is a cracking read that not only entertains but also makes you consider the selfishness behind caring, intelligent people's actions when lust, trust or situation cloud their judgement. It's well worth a pick up. I haven't recommended it to one person who hasn't thanked me for it.
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A story of colonial mismanagenment and a true love story, beautifully written and terrifyingly real - all the characters are still with me. I was acutally involved in the evacuation of the Belgians from the Congo, acting as an interpreter for them in what was Salisbury, Rhodesia. I well rememhber the utter astonishment of the evacuees who could not believe what was happening to them, and I also remember following the disintegration of the Congo, the failure of the leaders etc, all of which is foreshadowed in this book.
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By A Customer on 29 July 1999
Format: Paperback
This book carefully interweaves its three elements, thriller, love story and tradgey and its central themes love, commitment (political and personal) and betrayal (political and personal). Its is commited but not preaching. Its prose is lyrical and evocative and its plot convincing. The historical period is a fascintating one and is brought to life. The role of the CIA in the killing of Patrice Lummumba Congolose nationalist leader is not as well known as it should be but although this is one focus of the book the centre piece is the love affair between James Giiispie and Ines Sabani and this is brough to life with insight and raw emotion. I took this book on holiday and had to finish it in one sitting. It throughly deserved the praise and awards. My only criticism would relate to the African characters who are well described but their inner thoughts are not adressed and the main perspective is of the Europeans. Having said that the racism of colonial rule and european attitudes is brilllantly crystallised I can also recommend Ronan Bennets other book The Second Prison the best fictional account of the war in Northern Ireland i have ever read.
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Bennett's prose is refreshingly prudent and yet at the same time astutely passionate. He succeeds in creating a convincingly textured world in which the machinations of love and politics are perceptively and painfully entwined, exploring their analogous rise and fall towards a bitter denouement. Utterly compelling and perpetually haunting.
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I picked this up having enjoyed the marvellous 'Havoc in its Third Year' and was not disappointed. This novel has flaws and they are part of what makes its success. Gillespie the narrator is a confused Irishman and follows his love/lust to Africa to conquer her at the same time as decolonisation is taking place in the former Belgian Congo. Gillespie is indifferent to politics, part of his Northern Irish background (it is the 1960s and 'the troubles' are yet to begin) in contrast with Ines's passionate yet naive belief in the politics she encounters. The novel explores passion of various kinds, belief, cynicism, background and family and tries to get to the question about what makes people love and how they love. Why do I call it flawed? Because there are echoes of Brian Moore/Graham Greene here. This novel is flawed in the same way.....you can't get much better than that. I am going to read the other Bennett novels I can get my hands on - he is definitely one to watch!
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On June 30, 1960, the Congo was emancipated from Belgium. African nationalist leader Patrice Emery Lumumba became the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo when it declared its independence - the long awaited "Depanda" had arrived at last! In October 1958 Lumumba had founded the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais; MNC), the first nationwide Congolese political party. Forced out of office during a period of violent political upheaval in September 1960, he was assassinated in January 1961.

During the Congo's turbulent beginning many countries intervened in its political affairs. "They used: fear of communism, economic collapse, civil war, and protection of European citizens living in the Congo to back themselves for intervening." And the expatriate community, living in luxury, sipping sundowners at poolside, did not appreciate their world, their comfortable lives slipping out of their control.

At the time, the Congo was the biggest and richest country in central Africa, one with huge strategic importance - not only to the Belgians, but to the US. Katanga Province, the size of Britain, remains one of the richest areas in all Africa if not the richest. "The mines of the Union Miniere and Forminiere provided the world with eight per cent of its copper, sixty per cent of its uranium, seventy-three per cent of its cobalt, eighty per cent of its industrial diamonds. Katanga has gold, silver, tin, zinc, manganese, columbium, cadmium, tungsten, tantalum: its supplies will never be exhausted." This was the land of Unilever, Brufina, Union Miniere and the Banque Empain, companies which were not about to let their holdings slip away easily.
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