Season of bad will
I borrowed ‘A Season In The West’ on the recommendation of my mother-in-law [insert predictable joke here], who suggested I might find in it interesting parallels with Rose Tremain’s ‘The Road Home‘ which deals with similar themes. Both books concentrate on the migrant experience of London life, ‘The Road Home’ reflecting the new economic realities of an expanded EU and – by contrast – ‘A Season In The West’ depicting the experiences of a dissident Czech writer crossing the Iron Curtain for a taste of Western freedom. Such contemporaneous works have a tendency to render themselves a little obsolete in the popular imagination – a casual search for Piers Paul Read on Amazon isn’t encouraging, it seems many of his novels are now out of print. Of course, Iron Curtain or not, the themes are universal, and the moneyed London rather cruelly painted in ‘A Season In The West’ is not dissimilar to the moneyed London of the recent years currently on the receiving end of a critical bashing.
There are a couple of striking things about ‘A Season In The West’, winner of the James Tait Memorial Prize. First is Read’s employment of a rather 19th century style, a slightly tongue-in-cheek omnipresence that the narrator makes light of on several occasions. It gives the book the quality of being a rather cynical, fire-side fable about greed, and the lofty authorial position is so knowing and ironic the novel teeters between satire and parody. Secondly, few of the characters, not even the noble Czech, survive the book totally unscathed. While Joseph Birek maintains his integrity, he comes across as a rather dull and portentous. But the London set fare worse: over privileged toffs, serial adulterers, hacks, bankers and yuppies, all conforming to unpleasant typecast. It’s an undemanding but damning fable of money, class, and cultural and spiritual decay that could acquire new relevance in these credit crunching times.