Christine Strelan - Between the Covers
Atlantic Books 2007
Ceridwen Doveys debut novel is an imaginative look at the way power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is no dry political thriller, but a sensual, emotional look at the effects of power on the hearts and minds of those who wield and serve it.
Blood Kins original structure is probably its most intriguing quality. The first half of the story is told in turns by three male narrators: a barber, a chef, and a portrait artist. They are employed as private staff by the president of an unnamed country. Within the first short chapters, we realise a coup has occurred, the president is now a disgraced prisoner, and his three employees are now tainted by association. Their commentaries gradually fill in the details of what kind of leader the president really was, and also tell us about their past lives.
In the second half of the novel, three new voices arrive, women connected with the barber, chef and artist. They give a very different perspective on events and characters, and reveal further evidence of corruption and exploitation at every level. It all culminates in a melodramatic climax which does stretch credibility a little.
In general, though, Doveys book is very readable and absorbing. We are drawn immediately into the lives of these people, and even the badly behaved ones exert a queasy fascination. She explores the links between reactionary male sexuality and positions of authority, and also shows how thwarted women become twisted and devious, manipulating situations for their own ends. There are detailed depictions of the relationships between men and women miniature power struggles in themselves and between parents and children, commanders and their minions. Her view of human nature is bleak; most of the characters are corrupt and deceitful at some point, and the rare examples of integrity appear doomed.
Dovey grew up between Australia and South Africa and now lives in New York; one of Blood Kins strengths is its lack of specific national location. Its easy to imagine these events occurring anywhere, and to put ourselves in the morally impossible situations the characters end up in.
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