The Al­le­ga­tions

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Mark Law­son ( Pi­cador, £16.99)

‘Is the ac­cuser al­ways holy now?’ that stark quote, from The Cru­cible, ap­pears be­fore the start of this ex­cel­lent, hor­ri­fy­ing novel by Mark Law­son. In the world the novel evokes—not an imag­i­nary dystopia, but Great Bri­tain to­day, where any­one can be ar­rested un­der a claim of ‘his­toric’ sex­ual abuse and where a revered his­tory don can be sus­pended from a univer­sity post un­der al­le­ga­tions of ‘bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment’— the an­swer ap­pears to be ‘yes’.

the two fic­tional ac­cused char­ac­ters in the novel are Ned Mar­riott, a tele­vi­sion his­to­rian, and his friend and col­league tom Pimm, non-po­lit­i­cally-cor­rect his­tory lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Mid­dle eng­land, an in­sti­tu­tion in which stu­dents are known as cus­tomers and where what used to be Per­son­nel changed its name to hu­man Re­souces, then to Peo­ple and, fi­nally, to Work­place har­mony. In its cam­paign to stamp out any­one ever be­ing al­lowed to of­fend any­one, Work­place har­mony in fact stirs up hideous work­place dis­cord.

Mr Law­son men­tions in his au­thor’s note that he him­self suf­fered ‘one dev­as­tat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of in­sti­tu­tional group-think, baf­fling and con­tra­dic­tory man­age­ment, false ac­cu­sa­tion and sur­real sub-le­gal process’ and so has per­sonal knowl­edge of ‘the dam­age to rep­u­ta­tion, em­ploy­a­bil­ity and health that can re­sult from such an or­deal’. he stresses that this is not a ro­man à clef, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to read the novel without a strong sen­sa­tion of the au­thor’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

the loss of health of the ac­cused —the in­som­nia, the sweat­ing, the wrecked diges­tion—is foren­si­cally de­scribed. the crack­ling bril­liance of the prose and minute ob­ser­va­tions about con­tem­po­rary Bri­tain are shot through with dis­gust at the sel­f­righ­teous­ness of to­day’s ac­cus­ing mobs. the ac­cuser is al­ways holy and mud (now that every­thing can be ‘Googled till dooms­day’) has an alarm­ing ten­dency to stick. Ysenda Max­tone Gra­ham

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