Cover image for The catastrophist : a novel
The catastrophist : a novel
Bennett, Ronan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999?]

Physical Description:
332 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"Originally published in Great Britain in 1997 by Review"--T.p. verso.
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"The Catastrophist" is a brilliant, highly acclaimed novel of love, passion, violence, and desire, set in the Belgian Congo in 1959. While expatriates loll about their pools in a colonial paradise soon to erupt into chaos, huge crowds are drawn to the charismatic Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba -- and his even more dangerous rivals.

One man sees the cracks appearing around him and struggles to hold on to his lover, his sanity, and ultimately, his life. Gillespie, the outsider, a journalist, is in Leopoldville for the beautiful Italian, Ines. He is desperate for her love, while she is obsessed with the unfolding drama, caught up in history, ideology, hero worship.

In a world slipping out of control, gripped by disgust, fear, and incomprehension, Gillespie feels that events threaten to overwhelm him -- as does his friendship with the amiable but sinister American, Stipe; his relationship with his canny native driver, Auguste; and, above all, his love for Ines.

It is Ines who defines Gillespie as a "catastrofista," an Italian word for somebody for whom "no problem is small. Nothing can be fixed; it is always th

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

With the skill of an expert technician, Bennett dissects a writer's love for his journalist paramour. Yet even as Bennett portrays the longing and the loss James Gillespie suffers for Ines, his tale is far more revelatory. Rendered in exquisitely compelling prose, the fictionalized love affair is but one part of a complex tapestry that interlaces the all too real events taking place in the Belgian Congo, circa 1960, with a suspenseful spy story. James and Ines occupy a landscape where the Congo's colonial contingent reacts in various ways to the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba. Caught up in a web of political agendas, questions of morality, and the responsibilities of writers, James and Ines struggle in a morass of warring impulses. As the unrest and upheaval come crashing down around the ill-fated lovers, Bennett's literary tour de force sweeps readers along, imprinting images that remain vivid long after the book's final pages have been pondered. --Alice Joyce

Publisher's Weekly Review

An Irish novelist finds himself trapped in an African colony's struggle for independence in this sophisticated and resonant political novel from the Whitbread Prize-shortlisted, Belfast-bred Bennett. In 1959, middle-aged writer James Gillespie travels to the Belgian Congo to join his young Italian girlfriend, InŠs Sabiani, an idealistic journalist covering Patrice Lumumba's revolution for a Communist daily. In a colony swiftly on its way to nationhood, every action seems political. But narrator James clings to his ideal of artistic detachment, which drives a wedge between him and the engag‚ InŠs. While James makes friends with U.S. attach‚ Mark Stipe, a stocky swaggerer who may be working for the CIA, InŠs takes an African boyfriend, Auguste, Stipe's former houseboy and now Lumumba's right-hand man. Amid the tumult and intrigue of decolonization, James is forced to choose: will he cling to his ideology as a neutral observer, or help InŠs and Auguste when they need him? Bennett's laconic style suits his cautious narrator precisely, recording his reluctant engagement with the Africans' cause. With deft strokes, Bennett shows how U.S. and Belgian interests, fearing Lumumba's Communist sympathies, quickly undermined his government, helping to power his rival Mobutu, who proved a bloodthirsty tyrant. This U.S. debut is Bennett's fourth book in Britain, where he's often (and rightly) compared to Graham Greene, praised both for his awareness of Third World politics and for his tactile sex scenes. Readers expecting a straight-up thriller may flip impatiently past flashbacks to Northern Ireland, meditative passages and references to Empson and Flaubert. But those seeking a well-made hybrid in Greene's modeÄbuilt of irony and commitment, political theory and garish violence, erotic charge and historical factÄwill find Bennett a writer who can shock, please, inspire, disturb and finally satisfy. (Sept.) FYI: Before he was 20, Bennett was arrested as an IRA activist (though he was not a member) and convicted of murder and armed robbery, but released when his conviction was overturned. Later, living in England, he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy and served time while awaiting trial, where he was acquitted. Upon his release, he studied history at King's College, where he received a Ph.D. He is now a journalist in London. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Congo is not necessarily the safest place to be in 1960, as Africans launch their struggle for independence from the Belgian overlord. But InŠs Sabiani is there, reporting on the struggle for the Italian Communist paper, L'Unit…, and English novelist James Gillespie is so desperate to reignite their fading affair that he literally flies in the face of danger. As the struggle heats up and InŠs drifts further from Gillespie, he unwisely aligns himself with the American Stipe, who has a dark political agenda of his own. British novelist Bennett is here being compared to Graham Greene, perhaps unfairlyÄthe writing isn't that good, and at first readers may feel that significant historical events are taking second place to Gillespie's hand-wringing over InŠs. But soon the writing gathers force, the reader is gripped, and Bennett proves that his treatment is more subtle than one realized. Bennett raises important questionsÄshould the writer as observer take sides? does one side ever have a complete claim on the truth?Äand to his credit doesn't resolve them in a heavy-handed fashion. A thinking reader's thriller; most libraries should purchase. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/99.]ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.