Ceremony of Innocence by Madeleine Bunting
But families are complex systems; Kate has no idea how hers has the potential to harm Hussein. When her wealthy aunt and uncle offer her the use of a cottage on their country estate, she thinks only of the benefits of weekends away from London. She doesn’t ask why they inherited the family pile and her parents – now deceased – were left with nothing. She doesn’t question their business links with the Middle East that pay the maintenance bills.
Having previously met her aunt and uncle in Iran under the Shah, the reader is already primed to their tolerance of corruption and love of excess. Although we might hope, as Phoebe does when we first meet her in 1969, that she’ll sustain her romance with a local man. But it takes Hussein, and later Kate’s former sister-in-law, journalist Fauzia, to expose their dirty hands. And, tragically true to the real-life callousness of the arms trade, it’s the poor and the powerless who pay the price.
In this, her second novel, Madeleine Bunting does for corruption in the heart of the establishment of post-imperial Britain what she did for Nazi-occupied Guernsey in her debut, Island Song. Personally, I found the structure odd – to me, it’s Kate’s story, yet we begin with a potential news story about a Cambridge overseas student going missing in Cairo – but I’d rather that than a smooth narrative arc that perpetuates the delusion that British capitalists don’t have blood on their hands.
I love that the author acknowledges a German friend who asked why she should recognise her nation’s historical record, while the British fail to do likewise regarding our empire. We might have closed our eyes since the events of June 2020 – I’ve just really read my post on the #alllivesmatter nonsense and it’s not half bad – but Barbados recently becoming a republic is a hopeful sign. As is this novel. Thanks to publishers Granta books for my review copy.
Dirt Clean by Judith Amanthis
I loved the three voices, despite not getting every nuance; they connect when Kosi and Jennifer collaborate with their union to hold the company to account for low pay. Kosi’s ambition stretches beyond London: he’s distressed that his mother in Ghana can’t get the water she needs for her household and the vegetables she sells at the market. His government has given the contract to Truline, a corrupt organisation supported by Britain and the World Bank.
With post-colonialism, water injustice and consequently toilets being topics that easily spark my rage, I knew I’d like this novel. My only criticism is that it didn’t need to be so long. It’s my first read from a lovely independent publisher, Victorina Press, which like my own, Inspired Quill, values diversity. I’m sure I’ll be returning for more.