Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 5, 2020

Life After truth, by Ceridwen Dovey

Like everyone else, last night I went to bed wondering what the US election might bring, and this morning I can’t quite come to terms with the fact that (at the time of writing) over 68 million people still voted for That Man after witnessing four years of what he has done during his term in office.  It’s extraordinary.  There’s only a difference of about four million votes between the candidates…

So this was a very weird time to be reading Ceridwen Dovey’s new novel — which of course has the usual disclaimers about being a work of fiction — but is set during a Harvard reunion of classmates at a time when a man very like That Man is in the White House.  What’s more, one of the Harvard graduates at the reunion seems very like one of the beneficiaries of That Man’s nepotism — and the book’s prologue begins with one of the characters discovering that this son is dead in suspicious circumstances.  What happens in a Post Truth world when a President’s son gets murdered??

That question is set aside for almost all of the novel.  From the prologue, the story goes back to the beginning of that fateful weekend and — reminiscent of Andrea Goldsmith’s marvellous Reuniontraces what happens as old friends gather to reflect on their past, present and future.  The fate of President Reese’s son and the country led by his father haunts this story only like an undercurrent, as if to hint that the characters’ preoccupations with love, parenting, social status and the implications of AI (Artificial Intelligence) are about to be put into perspective.  It crossed my mind, on and off as I read, (obviously influenced by the election scenario), that the US has an armed population, it permits torture, and it suspends human rights when it suits them to keep people locked up for years without trial.  In the hands of an angry president, these powers are even more frightening.

Yet these friends, though (before the death) they comment publicly in some contexts about Fred Reese and his shameless behaviour, and they certainly think badly of him even if they are too constrained to say so, have other things to think about.  None of them are politically active, and one of them goes so far as to (privately) compare their apathy to the complacent acquiescence of Nazi Germany, where people failed to speak out, to protest or to act in the face of outrageous events.  Underneath the layers of a domestic novel portraying the narcissism, self-doubt and conflicts pf these adults on the cusp of middle age, Life After Truth is a political novel.  One which makes its point subtly, within the pages of an utterly absorbing story about some intriguing and very bright characters.

Jules is a film star, but she’s not the star of the novel.  The narration gives us the inner thoughts of only some of the principal characters.  We see the internal world of Rowan, an almost-too-good-to-be-true school principal whose life is guided by love for his family and concern for others.  We know about his wife, Mariam, whose reflections on life as a stay-at-home mother with two children under five focus on the demands of trying to be a perfect parent.  Eloise, a psychology professor whose field of expertise is ‘happiness’, has become wealthy through best-selling self-help books: she is preoccupied too.  She’s not happy herself because of strains in her relationship with Binx, a young woman involved in radical human body experimentation and the ‘liberation’ of the female from biology.  This includes the creation of Elly+, an android version of Eloise, who Eloise has come to regard as a rival.  We don’t get Binx’s PoV, nor do we get Jules’.  What is revealed is only the others’ protective thoughts about her because her fame has made her life hell, and it’s made it near impossible for her to have a meaningful relationship.  We do know how hard this is for Jomo, because while the others all regard him as a ‘stud’ whose relationship with Jules has always been platonic, his thoughts reveal his self-doubt about declaring his love for her.

Narrative tension pushes the reader on.  What is it, that’s bothering Jules?  Will Rowan put his foot in it again when his love for Mariam and his little girls makes him defensive on her behalf and causes him to make the fatal mistake of speaking for her, as if she weren’t disenfranchised enough already?  Will Mariam crack under the burden of being a full-time parent without any of the help that other (much wealthier) Harvard graduates have?  And how is she going to resolve her developing interest in religion to her staunchly atheist husband? How will Eloise negotiate her doubts, when Binx announces that they’re having a surrogate baby as a political act?  And will Jomo, executive of a luxury jewellery company, propose to Jules and give her the ring that he’s been carrying around for years?

And the president?  Dovey reminds us to keep our humanity no matter what politics may do.

In Boston’s South Station terminal, the giant screen above the passengers waiting for their trains showed the president of the United States sitting on the steps leading into Kirkland House, his head in his hands.  A still figure of grief in the midst of the flurry and bustle around him.  His dark coat was outlined against the bright-yellow background of tape crisscrossing the perimeter, keeping the media at a distance for now.

In all the drama of the last hours, Mariam had not once thought of how he might be feeling.  The president had lost his only child.  It was not something anybody could in good conscience wish upon another parents, now matter how much she hated him.

She pulled Alexis, who was on her lap, closer against her body, resting her chin on her daughter’s head.  The girls were alive.  Rowan was alive.  She was alive.  They had somehow escaped unscathed.

The Mariam of the preceding days — years, even — seemed to exist in another plane of reality, one in which it was normal to worry about things like whether to chop blueberries in half before giving them to her kids, or obsess over how tired she felt doing housework, or have stupid conversations with God instead of with her flesh-and-blood husband.

The Mariam of the present had been cleansed of all these trivial concerns.  Her mind had been wiped clear of everything except the fact that her children were okay.  Nothing else mattered.  (p.278)

Life After Truth is a fascinating look at contemporary life.  Make sure you get a copy!

Author: Ceridwen Dovey
Title: Life After Truth
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Random House) 2020
ISBN: 9781760895365, pbk., 289 pages
Review copy courtesy of Penguin Random House

Available from Fishpond: Life After Truth and good bookshops everywhere.

 


Responses

  1. Strange times indeed, Lisa. As my Canadian friend says – even if Trump loses, the American people have spoken. It breaks my heart that so so many of them chose to speak in this way. Seems like Dovey’s book is very apt indeed.

    Like

    • Whenever Australia’s alliance with the US, is discussed it’s always said that we share values with them. And although we part company with them about things like capital punishment and their grotesque gun culture, in general I think it’s been true (even if a good many of us don’t approve of their ‘interventions’ in other countries). We do tend to share values with democracies and places that uphold the rule of law and cooperate with international bodies like the UN and its offshoots like UNESCO etc.
      But now, I’m not so sure. 68 million people who don’t care about democracy and truth and the rule of law is a lot of people, a whole country in itself, not far off three times the entire population of Australia.

      Like

      • You know what worries me most about this Lisa? Could it be that many of Australia’s citizens could/would also be these kinds of voters. Some comments I have come across online (FB, mainly) from Australians really shock me. Not just in relation to Trump but in their reactions to refugees/indigenous peoples/the poor. My heart aches.

        Like

        • Yes indeed. C-19 has made me quietly remove a number of people from my friend feeds, no close friends I am glad to say, but still. It is the pernicious slow-acting effect of being disinterested in politics, getting what purports to be the news from commercial media, and wallowing in the echo chamber of people who think like they do so they never have their ideas challenged.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds excellent.

    Like

    • I hope you review it too, Kim!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I bought a copy from my local indie yesterday, so plan on reading it soonish :-)

        Like

  3. As I write this, DT is calling the election a fraud and a shame on the US – will he continue to say this if he wins? Despicable behaviour from the person called the leader of the free world. More like the posturing of a dictator. I’m also dismayed that half that country finds him someone to admire and follow. Not sure from your account of this novel, interesting though it sounds, if it’s for me.

    Like

    • It’s extraordinary, isn’t it? His behaviour is consistent with what’s gone before, but while I can understand that people voted for him previously because they believed his promises that he would improve their lives, I just can’t get my head around the idea that 68 million people voted for him this time. What kind of person would you have to be to do that?

      Like

  4. Second glowing review I’ve read on this! I am a fan of Ceridwen, so I’ll be reading this for sure.

    Like

    • She’s such a good writer! I discovered her almost by accident, when on a whim I went to an author talk at the St Kilda library. That made me seek out The Garden of the Fugitives, and then I read Blood Kin, which was her first, I think. (There was a short story collection, but I’m no fan of short stories, as you know.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I loved The Garden of Fugitives. The short stories is Only the Animals, I think. I haven’t read that either.

        Like

  5. I picked up a copy of this at work during the week and hope to read it before our author event with Ceridwen on the 19th Nov.
    I hope you reconsider her short story collection, Only the Animals, It was the book that turned me onto her in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know it’s very good, Brona, it’s just that short stories are really not my thing…

      Like

  6. I’m feeling the same as so many – however can half of the population of American think he’s worth voting for? Extraordinary. Not sure I am entirely ready to read something too close to reality at the moment…

    Like

  7. Do we share values with Americans? I’m afraid we do, just toned down a little. It is shocking that almost 50% of American voters are in favour of Trumpism – with all its racism, gun culture and anti-democratic overtones. But the Liberals here have captured a large part of the rural and working class vote for 25 years now with Trumpism-lite, to the extent that the current Morrison government is openly contemptuous of laws restraining its actions.

    Like

    • It’s the same shock as discovering that there was support for That Red-haired Woman from the Fish and Chip shop — only now it’s millions and millions of people…,

      Like

  8. Excellent review of a very interesting book, but I’m afraid it’s not for me at the present moment; I can’t read any contemporary fiction right now with a political theme. Like you, I went to bed wondering how the U.S. election was going and, the next morning, awoke aghast at the votes of 68 million people (actually more, I think, at this point). Since I’m a U.S. citizen, well — what can I say, except that DT did lose (put a smiley face here), to much rejoicing by a very large chunk of the U.S. It’s a very big, very diverse and very, very polarized country right now. I think the post mortems on current political trends will continue for a very long time. Not to defend the indefensible (I readily admit that there are some very ugly things in U.S. culture) I wonder if some version of Trumpism is nibbling away in general at the political systems of many democratic countries (I agree with Wadholloway that certain aspects of DT’s politics are present in non-U.S. countries; I regard Boris Johnson, for example, as a bit of a DT mini-me and there has been much anti-immigrant furor in Europe. Brexit anyone?). As for the U.S., democracy is hard and requires effort; too many people are low-information voters & simply want a strong man to tell them the answers. Add demographic change (the U.S. is on route to becoming a minority-majority country in a couple of decades); an increasingly unequal economic system; issues of racial injustice that have never been properly addressed (I highly recommend Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste but only if you have a strong stomach) and an increasingly outmoded political system (the Electoral College elects the president? How very 18th century) and I suspect you get DT. I also suspect, but hope I’m wrong, that the U.S. is simply a little further along this path than many other western countries. Sorry for the lengthy political comment (I do prefer talking about books) but I’ve been thinking about these issues a great deal this week and some of your very interesting, perceptive (and appalled) comments opened the flood gate . . .

    Like

    • You’re welcome, Janakay, I think this book has been the trigger for all kinds of thoughts and yours are, I fear, only too accurate about the disaster that populism fed by a partisan media has wrought among us. We have our share of low-info voters too.
      As you say on your very interesting blog, books are solace:)

      Liked by 1 person


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: