McCrum, editorial director of Faber & Faber, coauthor of The Story of English and author of three previous thrillers, looks to his roots in Northern Ireland for this tightly controlled, very British story of two sensible people trying to connect in the unsettling atmosphere of an occupied land. By choosing not to name the countries involved, calling them ``the mainland'' and ``the occupation,'' McCrum transforms his understated narrative into a powerful fable of contemporary conflict. Dr. Stephen Mallory, intensely frustrated by his shady job as ``political consultant,'' is assigned as security chief for a mainland committee inspecting a manse in the zone of occupation. He meets Isabel Rome, a recently divorced mainland reporter, and their romance struggles against the background of terrorist activity. It is soon clear to them that neither the MI5 agents nor the Army can promise security without the aid of local nabob Joe Curtis. Previously spurned by Isabel and diminished by his family's fall from prominence, Curtis has a private agenda that skews loyalties and foments the fractious nature of those he controls. McCrum captures the feeling of emasculation that prevails in a country unwillingly occupied, eloquently channeling the resultant violence and rage. The fiery resolution underscores the mercurial nature of life in a society rent by seemingly irreconcilable differences. (Apr.)
Psychologically jaded by his vocation as a political consultant, Stephen Mallory returns to his home office on the mainland. Even though his track record for organizing campaigns for Third World politicians has resulted in successful elections, Mallory is ``tired of being provisional, for hire.'' He accepts an atypical assignment in which he provides security for a rock music crew who are filming a controversial video. In his fourth novel, McCrum, editorial director of Faber and Faber, employs all the classic components of a spy-thriller novel: ubiquitous bombings, murders, conflicts between military and government officials, star-crossed romance, and a plethora of oddball characters. Portions of the story and some of the characters make the ingredients of a good vintage espionage tale. Ultimately, the author fails the acid test crucial for success in this genre--to engage and titillate the reader's interest from start to finish. Not recommended.--Mary Ellen Elsbernd, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights
Robert McCrum, now literary editor of London's Observer, was the editor-in-chief of the publishing firm Faber & Faber in London for nearly 20 years. The author of six highly acclaimed novels and coauthor of the bestselling The Story of English, his latest work is an illuminating look at the life of one of his literary heroes, P. G. Wodehouse.
Although not a household name in America, editor and writer Robert McCrum has had an enormous impact on the current state of literature. In his 20 years as Editor-in-Chief at famed British publishing house Faber & Faber, McCrum transformed a largely mediocre fiction list into a roster that included such successful and influential novelists as Peter Carey, Paul Auster, and Vikram Seth. In 1996, McCrum turned a semi-regular stint writing for the British newspaper The Observer into a fulltime position as literary editor, where he remains today. Somewhere along the line, he found the time to publish six of his own novels, co-author a best-selling history of the English language, and research and write a critically lauded biography of English humorist P.G. Wodehouse.
After graduating from Cambridge's Corpus Christi College on a history scholarship, McCrum set off across the pond with a post-graduate scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his MA, and then left the world of academia forever, opting instead to take a one-year extended tour of America in his Buick Skylark.
Back in England, McCrum took a job as a publicity assistant at Chatto & Windus. McCrum's intelligence, charm, and competitive streak quickly put him on the map as a rising star in British publishing. In 1979, a mere two years after starting at Chatto & Windus, McCrum began his successful run at Faber and Faber.
Never one to settle for complacency, McCrum published his first novel the following year, a thriller about the inner workings of British national intelligence called In the Secret State. His second novel, A Loss of Heart, was released in 1982. Two years after that, yet another novel, The Fabulous Englishman, was released to solid reviews and sales.
McCrum's biggest success came as co-author 1986 publication of The Story of English, which was released in tandem with a 10-part PBS documentary of the same name. McCrum's work on the series earned him an Emmy and a Peabody award, and the book became an international bestseller that still sells briskly in its 3rd revised edition.
And so McCrum's seemingly charmed life continued into the 90s. A fourth novel, Mainland, came out in 1992, and McCrum was putting the finishing touches on his next novel, Suspicion, when tragedy struck. In the summer of 1995, he awoke to find his entire left side paralyzed by a devastating stroke. Only 42 years old, McCrum's world shifted overnight. The writer's natural curiosity and need to communicate persevered, however, and in 1998 he released a critically-acclaimed memoir of his year spent in recovery entitled My Year Off.
Shortly after the publication of My Year Off, McCrum launched full-force into work on Wodehouse: A Life. Research for the biography of the famed English humorist would take him all over the world, from Wodehouse's homes in California to the German camp where he was interned during World War II to New York City. "It seems to me that you can't begin to understand someone until you see where they lived, what they saw out of the window when they woke up, and the kind of people they were living near," McCrum has said.
Four years spent traveling and reading Wodehouse's vast amounts of published and unpublished works paid off with a biography that critics have hailed as the definitive chronicle of the life of P.G. Wodehouse.
Good To Know
Some outtakes from our interview with McCrum:
"I'm a) tall b) speak English c) like a drink."
"My first job was looking after a parrot in a zoo."