Tuesday, 24 May 2016

"Ten Days" by Gillian Slovo - May 2016

We read this book as part of CityReadLondon - every year in April, London's reading groups can take part.

Mixed reactions to this book! It was advertised as a thriller, and endorsed on its cover as "A Cracker", and while a lot of us liked the book and had a lot of good things to say, I don't think we agreed with that praise. (Of course, we did lament that advertising for books and movies - and endorsements from other writers in particular - have by now spilled over into not much more than hyperbole, generally!) Let's start with the praise: We liked the fluent writing, some of the political analyses, and generally the fact that a book that takes what happened beofre and during the London Riots from 2011, and writes a sort of parallel-future-scenario that develops along many of the same lines, will get us all talking about the riots, our recollections, the parallels and differences, and that conversation is a good thing.

We especially liked the character of Joshua Yares, he was more complex than most of the others in the book, and his thoughts and actions were interesting to follow. We also would have liked to read a lot more about police procedure in general, and the character of Bill in particular, as those political movements, police action, and the human ways to cope with that action (and the public's and the rioters' reaction) were the most compelling parts. Bill sweating in full on riot gear and being told to "duck!" by his minder every few minutes as rioters threw whatever stuff at them was one example. Who knew riot gear police had to have minders? Probably because the shield limits visibility? I would have liked to read more action like that. Likewise, the political movements were interesting. The Home Secretary acted out of nothing but egocentric interest both in his political standing, in order to rise to the position of prime minister, and personally, in order to keep his mistress and keep hiding the affiar from his wife. Police Commissioner Yares had more backbone, as his interests included rooting out corruption and using the police force effectively and in the interest of the public.

We drew parallels between the undercover policeman who had a family in the housing estate where the riots break out, and the case of the spy Bob Lambert (and others) who had relationships and even children with members of groups they were secretly infiltrating, causing a scandal in 2012. That topic is interesting, but again, we could have used a more in-depth treatment (how could Lyndall (and the entire estate!) not have a clue he was her dad, for example?)

It was really interesting to talk about the riots, and we were happy the book sparked this discussion. But a lot of the characters in it left us unimpressed! They were a bit shallow and contradictory and we couldn't invest in them as they didn't seem real enough. Also, some relationships didn't seem plausible - the Home Secretary and his aristocratic wife for example, although their reactions to each other were very well observed I thought. Patricia, his secretary and mistress, didn't seem like a fleshed-out character though. But maybe that's because it was written from his perspective!
By Cordula