Sunday, 7 October 2012

Book #83 Hearts And Minds by Amanda Craig

Hearts And Minds

Hearts and Minds begins with a body being dumped into a river, so one expects it to be a crime novel but I wasn't far into the novel before I realised that it was a novel about immigration and specifically the immigration population of London. We are introduced to lawyer Polly, the descendant of 1930's Jewish emigrés with an American ex, South African teacher Ian, American PA Katie, Ukranian prostitute Anna, a victim of human trafficking, and Job a Zimbabwian taxi driver who works for Tariq, a Pakistani. So, a huge exercise in "box ticking" as many "types" of immigrant in the UK as possible.

It's a novel apparently about the changing face of London, yet it's clearly a polemic in every way. It's clearly designed to bash its readers about the head with the position that to in any way believe that Britain faces a "problem" with immigration makes you IGNORANT AND A RACIST. Polly practically has an apoplexy of self righteousness when Hemani, herself of immigrant stock has the audacity to suggest as much.

Polly is a human rights lawyer for asylum seekers and naturally everyone she represents is a clear cut case of need for right to remain, the schoolboy without nation or family, heroic Job, and the woman who has suffered degrading abuse. No Abu Hamza's for Polly. It's about as subtle as a brick in terms of shouting "don't you see??? if they didn't need to come they wouldn't!!!"

The thing is, by and large I agree with this notion, and also again with the ENTIRELY unsubtle point that no-one takes issue with white South African, American and Australian immigrants because "that's ok" but it's hard not to feel utterly, utterly patronised by Craig on this. If ever there was an opinion rammed down your throat, it's in this novel and even in this case, where it mirrors my own, it's quite sickening and also completely unbalanced.

In addition there are massive character issues, Polly, for all her bleeding heart save the world lawyer crusading pays an illegal much less than Job Seekers Allowance to be her general skivvy at home, and though she acknowledges the irony herself, and wrings her hands over it, it doesn't make her any less of a hypocrite for all her self righteous indignation at what she interprets as xenophobia.

Katie works at a magazine which I interpreted to be not dissimilar to Private Eye, everyone surrounding Katie are called things like Jocasta and Quentin, they are all wealthy yah Hampstead connected. They barely come off the page as people just floating empty drawings of a stereotype.

Ian is an English teacher, but he teaches at a comp in Hackney so naturally he can't wait to get out just as soon as he possibly can. Naturally the school is a hell hole, the playground is full of Bangladeshi and Somali gangs, there are no textbooks and none of them can be bothered etc. It's a total cliche of an "inner city comprehensive school" of which I believe there are many good ones in London. John O'Farrell recently wrote a piece about the one his kids go to in The Guardian. It comes off as Craig's own prejudice, so on the one hand she sanctimoniously preaches about the importance of immigrants to this country, but God Forbid their children be educated alongside hers.

Likewise, a cliched portrayal of the NHS where patients lie ignored in their own filth, & visitors have to feed their own family members, yet at the back she thanks the doctors who saved her life, she must have been lucky enough to pay, just like Ian. I have never, ever, seen this nightmare NHS the tabloids scream about.

In the end as all the strands and connections come together, writing skill is shown in her ability to tie up all loose ends, but everything is so dreadfully over coincidental and therefore entirely unlikely.

Craig recently wrote a jaw dropping piece for the Guardian following the death of Maeve Binchy in which she pretty much stated that Maeve Binchy could never understand the full spectrum of human emotion because she had never been a mother. And of course Binchy was prolific because again she had never been a mother.

I venture to say that in return this is the wrong kind of book for her to presume to be the voice of, I know she isn't Polly but it's hard not to think of her as exactly that. A South African immigrant she may be, but it's easy to sit in your middle class Cambridge educated Ivory Tower and lecture other people about how society ought to be in an ideal world; from a position of great privilege and disconnection from the day to day realities faced by the poor, the desperate and the dispossessed.

In a word : Condescending         4/10

This is 3 books in a row now with the exception of the short interlude of The Art Of War that have been absolute wank, please God let me have a run of good ones now, I've done my penance.


  1. An excellent and honest review! This definitely doesn't sound like one for me.