Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Book Review - The English Dragon

T P Bragg. Athelney, 1 Providence Street, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 5ET. 2001. ISBN 1 903313 02 3. £9.99.

A TODDLER goes missing at a London railway station on a Friday evening. This causes massive disruption to his parents’ lives over that fateful weekend. During this period of frantic searching and waiting, the inner thoughts of Ben’s parents – Oliver and Rowan Holmes – are laid bare in this astute novel.

Oliver, a reasonably well-off songwriter, believes that English society has gone to hell in a handcart. In moments alone and in contemplation of discussions in his university days, he muses on these things and occasionally jots down his thoughts; thoughts for his lost son.

The paradox of modern English society is that all cultures are valued equally, except for the English one. People have to struggle to be English in a quiet way. “Our freedom is being eroded. Those bastards in government are taking it from us stealthily and insidiously. Our culture is being eroded. You can’t be English anymore. They’ll make it illegal.” And the strangest part of this paradox is that the movement against freedom is being brought about by woolly minded ‘nice decent people’. If, please God, he and Rowan get Ben back, what kind of country is he going to grow up in?

A country where the institutionally busy police is paralysed by institutional incompetence. A country where freedom of thought and expression are stifled by a language of impoverished ‘authorised words.’ A country where indigenous English “values [are] overridden and laws amended to suit the needs of newcomers” whereas, in a healthy society, it would be “up to settlers to show respect and awareness of the indigenous people’s homeland.”

Oliver has a place in hell for all those responsible for the parlous state of England. In the lowest circle, he’s place writers, artists and film makers who censor themselves; in the second circle, editors and publishers; in the third circle, self-serving academics; in the fourth circle, cowardly politicians; tin the fifth circle, TV presenters; and in the sixth circle, busybody social workers who tear families apart for dogmatic reasons.

Rowan waits by the telephone at home in a little English village cottage while Oliver goes to London to see if he can find Ben. He tries to gee-up the indifferent police. He hands out leaflets at the railway station in order to jog the memory of commuters who may have seen the child.

Both are frantic with worry – fearing the worst, contemplating the disintegration of society but still daring to hope that they will be re-united with Ben.

This novel looks at the characters in an interesting way as the chapters switch from one to another. We see the innermost thoughts of Oliver and Rowan tumble out as if we are reading their ‘streams of consciousness’. Ben, bizarrely, reports his experiences at the hands of his abductors in the first person! Well, it seems a little offbeat at first, but Ben’s innocent descriptions of modern urban England with all its absurdities, double standards and little hypocrisies really works for the reader.

This compelling page-turner proves the old saw about never judging a book by its cover. Behind the uninspiring plain green cover is an attention-grabbing, thought-provoking quest. The story line is riveting. The reader will really care how this book ends. Will Oliver succeed in getting his son back? What motivates Ben’s abductors? Is Oliver’s opinion of today’s England accurate?

Can anything be done about it? Read it and see!

Reviewed by David Kerr

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