My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru

30/08/07, The Sunday Telegraph

On the eve of Mike Frame’s 50th birthday, as the celebration marquee is going up in the garden of his house, his life falls spectacularly apart. His painstakingly erased past catches up with him at last but this is no ordinary past: first, Mike Frame isn’t Mike Frame at all, but Chris Carver, a man involved so deeply in the radical-left activism of the late 60s and early 70s that he had to go into hiding as angry Utopian idealism, underpinned by revolutionary Maoism, morphed inexorably and inevitably into terrorism. His wife, Miranda, and his stepdaughter, Sam, haven’t a clue about Mike’s past. As two ghosts from that period suddenly loom up in his life – one a sudden glimpse of an ex-girlfriend who he had thought to be dead, and the other of a far more insidious figure who has blackmail on his mind – Mike/Chris has no choice but to run. But run where: to his jagged past or to a frighteningly dwindling future?

Inspired by the actions of the radical group, the Angry Brigade, Hari Kunzru’s third novel, My Revolutions, is an urgent and passionate piece of work: staggered by sadness, foredoomed by loss and fairly afire with an anger on behalf of the world’s dispossessed and powerless that is so conspicuously absent from cosy and collusive current fiction. He extends the meditation on identity that he had embarked on with The Impressionist but here the voice has matured even further: the ironies, culs-de sac and slipstreams of political commitment are explored with such nuanced shading that he strikes a miraculous balance between involvement and distance, between commitment, disaffection and betrayal.

British left radicalism never saw the edginess of May 68 or the American campus revolutions during the Vietnam War, neither the extremism of the Baader-Meinhoff and the Brigate Rossi, and this momentarily infects the book with a sense of bathos. But this is dissipated by the lucid flow of his effortlessly stylish and elegant prose and while the last twenty pages give too hurriedly condensed an account of a particular chapter of Mike’s past, the momentum is so relentless that it doesn’t seem to matter very much.

In its measured choreography of the infinitely complex twining of the personal and the political it brings to mind Bertolucci’s masterpiece, Il Conformista. It is a bid by a coruscatingly intelligent writer to bring back both politics and the engagé writer to the bloodlessly apolitical world of contemporary fiction.