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Writing the Body Politics

The Wake of Dispossession: Patrick Neate’s Jerusalem

Le sillage de la dépossession : Jerusalem de Patrick Neate
Jean-Michel Ganteau


Le récit fragmenté qui compose ce roman propose une actualisation du condition-of-England novel, jadis appelé « roman industriel », en le transposant à l’heure de la révolution numérique. Ce sont les effets de cette révolution, de la société du spectacle et du néo-libéralisme qui sont à l’œuvre dans le monde de Jerusalem. Ce roman, qui utilise également les armes de la satire et de l’élégie, s’intéresse aux formes de précarité contemporaines que sont l’invisibilité et la dépossession de la parole. De ce point de vue, et c’est ce que l’article s’attache à démontrer, Jerusalem propose une vision de la vulnérabilité sociale et politique. Dans un premier temps, les notions d’invisibilité et d’inaudibilité sont envisagées. Une seconde partie s’intéresse plus précisément à la spécificité de la situation nationale, au moyen d’une contextualisation géographique et historique. Jerusalem y est envisagé sous l’angle du trauma. La dernière partie s’intéresse au dispositif narratif consistant à séparer pour mieux relier, dispositif sur lequel se fonde en grande partie la dimension éthique du roman, avant de conclure sur la notion d’empowerment.

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1Patrick Neate’s work has been the focus of little academic attention so far. Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko (2000) and Twelve Bar Blues (2001), his first two novels, are also the first two instalments of a trilogy that was completed by Jerusalem, An Elegy in Three Parts in 2009. In fact, Jerusalem calls up most of the protagonists featuring in the preceding novels, i.e. the African characters from the fictional republic of Zambawi (roughly modelled on Zimbabwe, where Neate spent a year off), Jim and Sylvia, the two British expatriates who are the main protagonists of Twelve Bar Blues, set in New Orleans. In Jerusalem, Jim and Sylvia have repaired to Zambawi, where Sylvia runs a house for Zambawi orphans while Jim is dying of aids-related infections. And with Jerusalem whose action, as the title circuitously indicates, partly takes part in London, Neate has come up with an international cast of characters and a variety of locations that make his narrative edge towards a new type of novel in which cosmopolitanism and globalization have become central issues, and in which globalization is supposed to have superseded postcolonialism (Gonzalez).

  • 1 It should be noted that the only novel by Neate that has received academic attention, City of Tiny (...)

2In Jerusalem, as in the first two novels, Britain has gone global or, more to the point, the Edwardian version of essential Englishness evoked in one of the main narrative strands is set within the wider contemporary context of a supposedly multicultural society, itself etched against a background of global ties and involvements. Such a multiplicity of perspectives, each one apparently confined to a specific narrative unit but necessarily overflowing into the others, has been conceived of as a narrative apparatus allowing for the expression of ethical and political issues. This is what reviewers have addressed when comparing the novel to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (Evaristo), and when systematically underscoring the ‘sharp satirical edge’ (Womack) that fuels the narrative and lampoons the ‘selfishness and vacuities of the PR industry and politics’ (Urquhart). It is striking that the novel’s multicultural drive should not have been explicitly underlined in the reviews. This may be due to the fact that a mere summary of the plot is enough to make it clear to the reader that multiculturalism, its causes and consequences, is also quite prominently what the novel is about. But this might also be an index that the narrative montage is intent on presenting various emblematic components of what multicultural society is supposed to be in fairly tight, autonomous narrative units that do not allow for the general view of cultural heterogeneity.1 The London that Neate has in mind is made up of niches or closed spheres and no triumphant vision of the city, in Blake’s sense, is ever allowed to appear. In conformity with the tradition of the condition-of-England novel, the nation that Jerusalem presents us with is divided.

  • 2 Amis wrote a short story entitled ‘State of the Nation’ originally published in 1986, and reprinted (...)

3Of course, the condition-of-England tag applies very partially to Neate’s work. For one thing, he is avowedly as much interested in the situation of the contemporary world as in the state of England, even if it specifically raises the issue of Englishness, as will appear later. And secondly, the condition-of-England novel is not a generic labelling that is used very frequently when addressing contemporary production. Still, I would argue that, with a spate of British novels written over the last decade, Jerusalem largely foots this generic bill. I have in mind not so much explicit, metafictional re-writings of the genre (as was the case with David Lodge’s Nice Work) as more recent work by novelists like Martin Amis (whose 2012 Lionel Asbo, one may remember, boasts the following subtitle: State of England)2, Ian McEwan (I am thinking of Saturday), Zadie Smith (NW), Jon McGregor (Even the Dogs) or most of Jonathan Coe’s works—more specifically his trilogy. I feel that such narratives, among others, meet the most salient criteria according to which the genre is defined, by focussing on ‘landmark events in the society of their times,’ hinging on class conflicts, and providing a ‘liberal vision manifesting a compassionate concern with the lives not only of the most privileged but also of the more oppressed members of British society’ (Ross 75). By recapitulating these criteria, I am aware of a generic tradition whose origins can be traced back to early Victorian times, with Carlyle’s founding evocations in Chartism and Past and Present. I am equally conscious that the fictional template that most critics have in mind is that of the ‘social novels,’ ‘industrial novels,’ or ‘social protest novels’ of the mid-Victorian period, as notoriously emblematised by Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations (1845), Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke (1850), Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1854-55) among others. And neither do I lose sight of a more recent, Edwardian tutelary presence, i.e. E.M. Forster’s hypercanonical Howards End of which Michael L. Ross has convincingly argued that it features as one of Saturday’s main hypotexts. One step further, I feel that Forster’s own relational version of the genre may be as influential as that of his Victorian forebears: the contemporary state-of-Britain narratives may not address directly a single weighty public event (even if this is the case with Saturday), they feel the pulse of the nation in its present state and try to capture an idea of what the contemporary is. They keep hinging on class or community separations that may develop into conflicts, still they keep positing that relating/connecting is better than keeping separate and autonomous. In other words, and this will be my main argument here, those contemporary state-of-Britain novels purport to ‘assess what remains of the liberal vision that once inspired [their] illustrious predecessors’ (Ross 76) while clinging to the ethical value of such a vision. They make it clear that a model in which the groups, communities and classes are not so much autonomous as interdependent and vulnerable to each other is to be vindicated.

4What I intend to do in the following pages is to consider the state-of-Britain novel that Jerusalem represents through the thematic and ethical prism of vulnerability. This is what I imply when referring to the notion of dispossession that I take from Butler and Athanasiou’s work. For in fact, the novel is concerned with imposed precariousness and dispossession, i.e. what it is to be deprived of some of one’s rights. Still, I shall point out that another more positive model of dispossession is suggested short of being claimed by the novel in that, in Butler and Athanasiou’s terms again, the novel’s ethical and political agenda challenges the unitary subject’s sovereignty and power and summons some ethical ‘fissuring of the subject’ (Butler and Athanasiou ix) that is the basis of relationality as warrant of the good life within the city, the nation and the world. In the following lines, I envisage Jerusalem as a state-of-Britain novel through the vulnerability lens, and I focus in turn on issues of audibility and vulnerability, then on the evocation of the specificity of the contemporary, and finally on relationality as empowerment.

5The London of Neate’s novel is the emblem of the contemporary nation, as is often the case in modern production, and it is steeped in moral darkness. Blake’s ‘dark, satanic mills’ seem to loom large, in their contemporary guise, when the protagonist gets lost in one of the suburbs, on his way to meeting a new artist named Nobody (175). If the labyrinthine topos of the metropolis is called forth punctually, the dark, satanic mills have metaphorically managed to colonise the nation. The condition of Britain that the novel is keen to diagnose is one involved in the process of digesting the effects not of the first industrial revolution, but of the more recent and ubiquitous one that in the first decades of the Twenty-First century seems to have morphed into a Digital Revolution. The main protagonist of the contemporary plot is Preston Pinner, aka 2p™, aka Tuppence™, who owns Authenticity, a media and marketing company whose lucrative business is to manufacture cool and sell it to other companies so that they can package their brand and products and make them all the more marketable. There is nothing genuine with Authenticity, as the reader very soon discovers: a guru meeting with his uber-cool clique of executives in the corporate yurt, Preston Pinner pays little attention to others but he ‘engages’ with the Zeitgeist that he is an expert at riding. The pages evoking the shallowness and cynicism of his world are couched in satire of the funniest, most pungent type, as is the case throughout Chapter Three (17–21), for instance. Similarly, the passages devoted to his father, David Pinner, the Foreign Office minister of a never-named yet omnipresent New Labour Government, build up a portrait of what it is to pose as philanthropist while being intent on advancing one’s own private agenda. Through the double family portrait of the new ruling classes, Jerusalem makes its eponymous elegy veer into dark satire, two generic configurations that share the power to foreground object loss and, in their more optimistic version, to evoke the possibility or necessity to move to a better state. From this point of view, both elegy and satire, in their negative phases (the consideration of what is lost or undesirable) and in their positive dimensions (the move beyond mourning back to normalcy and the desire to improve things) are two stable sub-generic components that fuel the state-of-Britain novel.

6At the other end of the social spectrum lie the anonymous masses of consumers and aspiring celebrities whose needs Authenticity caters to. By creating an AuthenTV™ weekly urban music show (49), and by launching an A-List™ (fashioned on the MySpace template), 2p™ manages to get a great deal of public attention while solidifying the reputation of his brand as the numbers of submissions of anonymous artists soar, some of them reaching the paradise of celebrity and visibility through the means of the highly selective A-List™. Fairly literally, the novel trades in the mysteries and exchange value of audibility and visibility, as the new needy aspire to that condition. Conversely 2p™, who emblematises success, aspires to nothing more than anonymity and invisibility, as made clear in all passages where he camouflages into ordinariness. Clearly, such a situation is a way of bringing up to date the condition originally described by Carlyle and the above-mentioned Victorian novelists: instead of the factory-owners as opposed to the labouring classes of yesteryear, today’s two nations dwell in a single location (London) and the new currency is not so much money as, metonymically, visibility and audibility.

7This ties in quite naturally with Carlyle’s original observations, when, in Book One of Past and Present, he defines the condition of England as dominated by the paradox of a nation full of skills and resources that cannot manage to produce wealth, on account of its split nature:

The condition of England . . . is justly regarded as one of the most ominous . . . ever seen in this world. England is full of wealth, of multifarious produce, supply for human want in every kind; yet England is dying of inanition. With unabated bounty the land of England blooms and grows; waving with yellow harvests; thick-studded with workshops, industrial implements, with fifteen millions of workers, understood to be the strongest, the cunningest and the willingest our Earth ever had; these men are here; the work they have done, the fruit they have realised is here, abundant . . : and behold, some baleful fiat as of Enchantment has gone forth, saying, ‘Touch it not, ye workers, ye master-workers, ye master-idlers; none of you can touch it, no man of you shall be the better for it; this is enchanted fruit!’ On the poor workers such fiat falls first, in its rudest shape; but on the rich masterworkers too it falls; neither can the rich master-idlers, nor any richest or highest man escape, but all are like to be brought low with it, and made ‘poor’ enough, in the money-sense or a far fataller one. (Carlyle 1843)

8It ties in even more naturally with his earlier text, Chartism, in which he inveighs against the inaudibility to which the labouring masses are reduced:

. . . a genuine understanding by the upper classes of society what it is that the under classes intrinsically mean; a clear interpretation of the thought which at heart torments these wild inarticulate souls, struggling there, with inarticulate uproar, like dumb creatures in pain, unable to speak what is in them. (Carlyle 1840, 6)

9Or perhaps I should add that ‘inaudibility’ is not the right term, and that ‘inarticulacy’ is more relevant. What I mean is that from the beginning of the condition-of-England tradition a great deal of attention has been paid not only to the causes of separation but also to the conditions of the allocation of precariousness. Those hinge on the vision of the masses as not only invisible, but also inaudible, except for moments when the upsurge of frustration and anger is such that the said masses organise themselves and make themselves visible and audible in their inarticulacy. Now, the reference to inarticulacy systematically points towards some form of animality compounded of violence and vulnerability (through the deprivation of speech). The limits of the human and the frailty of the ‘under classes’ otherwise referred to as the ‘populace’ by Matthew Arnold (Masterman 15) become an index of social vulnerability in contemporary society.

10The culminating irony of the situation denounced by Neate is that even while 2p™ aspires to anonymity on account of his fame and power, the black singer of ‘Jerusalem,’ the eponymous hit that makes him famous over the country and the world overnight through the means of the A-list, has to appear in public wearing a balaclava on account of the fact that he is an illegal immigrant coming from . . . Zambawi (268). The state of the Britain as recorded by Neate vilifies a nation in which the criteria and coin of privilege may well have changed, the original condition diagnosed by Carlyle is still valid and is predicated on the paradoxical exclusion of the vast majority. The invisible, inarticulate masses are little present in the pages of a novel that resorts to the power of the iconic representation of absence through absence—or at least lack of salience. The impression that the reader is left with is one of a separation that is presented through the violently metonymic, and even metaleptic figure of the allocation of precariousness and invisibility. In Guillaume Le Blanc’s terms, the masses have assumed a ‘spectral’ existence, as the excluded are part of the eponymous Jerusalem and of the nation in the same way as the privileged are. Being inside and outside the city at the same time (Le Blanc 2011, 18), the excluded majority are shown as the supernumerary tenants of latent lives waiting for validation and confirmation (Le Blanc 2011, 18–19) and in prescribed need of hiding. What Jerusalem describes is the negation of visibility and voice, and more specifically the way in which the negation of an individual’s or a majority’s voice implies a fall into precariousness (Le Blanc 2007, 72–73). Only through the emergence of voices, inarticulate as they may be, whether they be screams or cries or the recuperation of that hymn of Englishness, ‘Jerusalem,’ as world hit accompanied with blasphemous images of the bashing of the Queen at the hands of hoodlums, can precariousness, dispossession and vulnerability lose intensity and power (Le Blanc 2007).

11As suggested above, with Neate’s Jerusalem the condition-of-Britain novel seems to have gone global. The divide may well still be one between North and South, but it has spread to other areas of the world—as it had started doing in Mrs Gaskell’s times. The fact that the Pinner plot-line should introduce an illegal immigrant singer calling himself Nobody, of whom the reader learns belatedly that he is the son of the political opponent to Zambawi’s reigning dictator, brings world affairs into the heart of the city and provides a forceful reminder that the state of the nation is one that is very much embroiled in post- or neo-colonial issues. From this point of view, the first lesson that may be derived from the narrative’s thematic and structural choices is that nations, in the same way as individuals, are not so much autonomous as interdependent, or even mutually autonomous (Held 53). In other words, the nation is in a state of openness or vulnerability to its former colony. This is not visible at first sight. The pseudo philanthropist events staged-managed by the government and the Foreign Office minister’s inauthentic scruples and good intentions, when he is sent on a mission to Zambawi to get a British businessman out of the prison to which he has been sent on suspicion of arms trade, provoke a sense of outrage at the cynicism of what is denounced as neo-colonialist practices. Still, the Foreign Office minister will land in the same jail himself, a development that makes manifest the ascendance of responsibility, through the means of a sense of imposed and restrained vulnerability (to the past and present relations between the two countries).

12Such a feeling is conveyed in one of the narrative strands made up of a series of entries from the ‘Diary of a Local Gentleman’ kept in the Empire Museum, Bristol, and dated 1901. The anonymous author of those pages used to act as a junior officer during the Boer war, and his retrospective evocation of his country relates Britain’s entanglement with what he calls ‘the savages.’ By reporting the opinion of one of his colleagues in Africa, Ackerman—one that he never endorsed—, he cannot but debunk the overall sense of self-righteousness that pervades most of the pages of his account, as he confesses that he ‘remain[s] fascinated by his [colleague’s] contention that the roots of [their] empire’s downfall are laid in its every victory’ (194). In Jerusalem, responsibilities spread through space in the same way as they stretch through time.

13Such a way of reconfiguring the state-of-Britain subgenre answers the double need to respect its time-honoured conventions even while delineating its specificity and relevance to the present. And we should remember that concern with the present and what it is to be contemporary are at the heart of the condition-of-England tradition from its inception. This is what Carlyle is intent on doing, in the two essays quoted above, and it is also what C. F. G. Masterman, in The Condition of England (1909), strives to do, as he opens his study with reflections on the difficulty of representing the present (Masterman 1). My point is that in order to evoke the specificities of the present situation, contextualisation and extension are necessary. This is why in Jerusalem not only is Britain cut in two, but post-coup, dictatorial Zambawi is too (375), and such internal separations are duplicated by the failed dialogue between the former motherland and its colony. Jerusalem’s houses are divided, and such division is made structurally unmistakable by resorting to ‘narrative disjuncture’ (Evaristo) relying on four main strands: the London-Pinner strand, the events taking place in Zambawi, extracts from an anthropological study of Zambawi, and the diaries of the Edwardian gentleman who fought during the Boer war and died during the First World War.

14Such a structural choice, even as it creates disarray and expectation, is meant as a connecting apparatus whose function is to assert interdependence and solidarity despite apparent disconnection. Besides geographical links, it considers temporal continuities and echoes. The Zambawi plot strand hinges on the figure of a witch doctor and seer, Musa Musa, who is jailed in the same prison as David Pinner, under the tag ‘Prisoner 118’, and who is possessed by the spirit of a white man. In very striking scenes, he is seen to be having ‘the white man’s dream (60–65, 241–256) and he becomes the white man, i.e. he is possessed by the spirit of a white Englishman who apparently lived in a rural part of England. Of course, the white man whose violence Musa Musa has to espouse and whose shame he has to share is nobody but the anonymous local gentleman whose diary the reader has had repeatedly access to. Now, the Englishman’s anonymity is not preserved till the end of the narrative as, during one of the possession scenes, the alert reader recognises David Pinner’s ancestor through a common physiological trait—their equine features (256). The intimation is that the sins of the colonialist grandfathers are revisited on their descendants and that no evasion of trans-generational responsibility is possible. That David Pinner, Foreign Office minister, should be obliquely re-enacting in neo-colonialist, pseudo-philanthropic guise his grandfather’s colonialist agenda, and that Musa Musa should repeat in the present, through the means of dreams and hallucinations, the violence of an Edwardian gentleman’s opinions and actions (complete with rape and murder) points towards a version of the state of Britain as dominated by a traumatic condition.

15In fact, the historical events that the reader is given access to are never present in the consciousness and memories of the contemporary characters, and it is through the means of the fragmented plot-structure that a fair amount of dramatic irony is generated, granting the reader access to the trans-generational scope of the condition and thereby delineating its singularity. The state of the nation is considered globally and trans-historically and the de-structured, multi-layered narrative is shown to be crumbling under the pressure of an afterwardsness or Nachträglichkeit in which the inassimilable primary violence of colonisation (the Boer War) is reactivated one century later by the political crisis of Zambawi and the diplomatic crisis between Britain and its former colony. According to the principle of afterwardsness, the first event (event A) is seen to act on the following one (event B) even while, conversely and reciprocally, the second, contemporary breakthrough allows for the modification or re-reading of the first one (Laplanche 38, 49, et passim). Such a two-way temporal movement helps capture the singularity of the contemporary state of the nation as one in which the economic and political dispossession of Zambawian characters (who experience the full-blown effects of a dictatorship and economic crisis) is emblematised by the possession of one of their traditional leaders, Musa Musa. The seer and healer, who is as economically and politically dispossessed as his fellow countrymen, is also dispossessed in Butler and Athanasiou’s second, more positive acceptation of the term in that through the opening and ‘fissuring of [his] subject’ (Butler and Athanasiou ix) figured out by his possession, he becomes the emblem of vulnerability to otherness. In Jerusalem, possession may be an operator of dispossession, so that the powers of spectrality assert the ethical principle of interdependence. Through the most traditional character of the African cast, the novel voices an ethics of vulnerability to otherness and of responsibility for the other thanks to which solidarity and interdependence are solicited. In a global context dominated by neo-colonial, neo-liberal ambitions, Musa Musa stands for the principle of identity construction through relation which, in Corinne Pelluchon’s terms, is the basis of vulnerability (Pelluchon 27). The elegiac and satirical dissatisfaction with the state of Britain is fuelled by the consideration that the ethical and political values of vulnerability have little if no currency. The nation is cut in two on account of its past and continuing involvement in violent, self- and profit-centred relations. What Jerusalem calls for is a change of paradigm and the adoption of another type of relationality.

16As underlined by Judith Butler, ‘we are both constituted and dispossessed by our relations to others’ (Butler 24), and I would argue that this may be considered the basic claim on which a vision of the individual as essentially relational is based. More specifically, it appears that Jerusalem is precisely concerned with a vision of humanity as inherently relational, which makes the state-of-Britain novel veer towards a conception of the condition-of-England narrative that postulates separation all the better to connect. In other terms, I feel that Neate’s novel shares the following characteristic with McEwan’s Saturday that, as state-of-Britain narratives, they owe a great deal of their inspiration to a central Modernist hypotext, i.e. E.M. Forster’s Howards End. In fact, as already mentioned, the story is conceived of as a connecting apparatus in more ways than just one. The multi-layered, fragmented plot in which chronological ordering is blurred within one single plot line is essentially meant to get the reader to connect various stages and moments of the narrative. In similar fashion, the apparently water-tight narrative strands are too ostentatiously hermetic and autonomous in their destabilizing function, from the outset, not to call for some piecing up and connection. And once the reader has been given an inkling into the ways in which connection is possible, some forced, systematic connectivity is introduced into the text. The revelation as to the identity of the anonymous Edwardian gentleman in relation to his descendants (his grandson David Pinner and his great grandson and namesake Preston Pinner) is clinched several times over, with various degrees of salience, which grants some hyperbolic stamp to the claim for connectivity (251, 256, 291, 305). The revelation as to the identity of the masked black singer Nobody, who turns out to be the son of Joseph Phiri the opponent to the Zambawian dictator (338), is equally dramatic. The relational impulse, in each of the two instances, is one that brings in some measure of narrative closure and, more precisely, both represents and performs narrative solidarity. What I mean is that the text obeys the law of separating the better to connect, as if the ostentatious staging of separation were but a means to perform relation. From this point of view, the Forsterian exhortation to connect seems to be part and parcel of the structural helix on which the novel rests.

17As might be expected, the novels ends up on a series of reconciliations and connections. Still, once again, those seem to be too good and emphatic to be true. In fact, every time the unification of the two sides of the nation is proclaimed, the coming together is shown to be fraught with every sign of inauthenticity. This is the case as regards the announced collaboration of dictator Adini and Joseph Phiri, in the former’s speech that takes up the whole of Chapter 52 (372–374). The same may be said of the climactic scene in which Nobody, doffing his balaclava, sings his rap hit Jerusalem in front of a delirious stadium, complete with a choir of children mouthing Blake’s lines. In the final, visionary syllables, everybody in the stadium is shown to commune, including cynical 2p™:

He looked out over the masses and he was one with them. . . . ‘Till we have built Jerusalem,’ he bellowed, ‘In England’s green and pleasant land.’ (392)

18Still, the epiphanic moment of authenticity is short lived, as the narrator makes clear a few lines down: ‘But still he couldn’t deny the prickle behind his own eyes and wished he could hold the moment for ever or until he figured out what he might do next’ (393). The narrator’s judgement falls on the scene with unambiguous determination and the intimation is that, try as they may, the various parties will for ever fail to be fully re-united. Connection and the relational impulse are envisaged as endless process, without any possibility of stabilisation. Jerusalem shows that it is of the nature of the connective impulse that it is always already abortive, always to be performed again, which implies that it invades the narrative.

19As a state-of-England novel, what Jerusalem claims, then, is the need to move away from a paradigm based on separation to one relying on interdependence (Maillard 88), both at the individual and collective levels. In Neate’s world, no man is an island, and no island is an island either, as vindicated by Carlo Ginzburg, which means that his vision of both the individual and the nation relies on an anthropology and on a politics of incompleteness and vulnerability (Maillard 336) in which autonomy might be a phase or component of interdependence, as if there were no autonomy per se and only the possibility of ‘mutual autonomy’ (Held 53). Still, beyond the satirical drive, the novel seems to cling in the end to the possibility of elegy (Preston Pinner does seem to amend after his stay in Gwezi prison where he learns to listen to and consider others [380]), if we take elegy in the traditional sense, i.e. ending with the promise of healing. True, no emphatic stabilisation is attained in this direction, yet the reader is left with the twinkling of a promise.

20This is perceptible in the last, untitled chapter that does not belong to any already advertised narrative strand, and gives voice to the voiceless. The last section displays a text in Zambawian language with its translation into English. The original is said to have been written by a female native, who married Robert Ackerman, during the Boer War, Ackerman being the officer with liberal, highly critical views on British imperial policy that Preston Pinner disagreed with. It tells of the way in which the Zambawian wife learnt to write in her own tongue and fought to learn English so as to understand and love her husband better. And her final revelations are about the English language as a means not to clarify but confuse (401), and insist that the learners, whatever they do, are always losers: ‘. . . to learn English is to learn to use the white man’s weapon, but it remains his weapon’ (403). Those are the very last words of the narrative, in its English translation:

English is the language of deceit, division and domination. How I long for a language of honesty, unity and revolution! Still, I hold on to the belief that, as it is required, so it will one day come. (405)

21Ultimately, the news that Jerusalem provides the reader with is that Britain is still divided, but always on the mend. The fact that the last words should be entrusted to a repressed, excluded, silent other, hovering on the margins of British society, and whose voice emerges from the depths of the past points once again at the vulnerable state of silence, even if it helps measure that little progress has been made since the beginning of the 20th century. Still, it also chooses to underline that something may be done with vulnerability, all the more so as it insists on the powers of vulnerability. In the anonymous Zambawian woman’s words is to be heard the possibility of the rearmament of her voice, which, in Le Blanc’s terms, is conducive to empowerment (Le Blanc 2011, 125). I would argue then that what the novel is essentially concerned with is the power of contestation of the excluded and the silenced (Le Blanc 2011, 79), and that in so doing it shows the way towards empowerment. This is what Jerusalem, as a state-of-Britain novel, and through its insistence on the individual and collective values of vulnerability, is intent on doing.

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Ross, Michael L., ‘On a Darkling Planet: Ian McEwan’s Saturday,’ Twentieth-Century Literature 54.1 (Spring 2008): 75–95.

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1 It should be noted that the only novel by Neate that has received academic attention, City of Tiny Lights, has addressed such issues in relation to the lexicon of violence and vulnerability (Rosenberg 356), and in relation to the construction of Britishness (Rosenberg 361). City of Tiny Lights has also been envisaged through the prism of the post 9/11 or 7/7 novel in relation with terrorism. Interestingly, Egbert makes a comparative study of Neate’s novel with what has been defined as a contemporary condition-of-England novel, i.e. Ian McEwan’s Saturday (for a reading of Saturday along such generic lines, see Ross).

2 Amis wrote a short story entitled ‘State of the Nation’ originally published in 1986, and reprinted in Heavy Water and Other Stories in 1998.

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Jean-Michel Ganteau, « The Wake of Dispossession: Patrick Neate’s Jerusalem »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 49 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2015, consulté le 20 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Jean-Michel Ganteau

Jean-Michel Ganteau is Professor of British Literature at the Université Paul Valéry Montpellier. He is the editor of the journal Études britanniques. He is the author of two monographs: David Lodge : le choix de l’éloquence (Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2001) and Peter Ackroyd et la musique du passé (Michel Houdiard, 2008) and of a book-length study entitled Marks of Weakness: The Aesthetics and Ethics of Vulnerability in Contemporary British Literature (Routledge 2015). He is also the editor, with Christine Reynier, of five volumes of essays Impersonality and Emotion in Twentieth-Century British Literature (Publications Montpellier 3, 2005), Impersonality and Emotion in Twentieth-Century British Arts (Presses Universitaires de la Méditerrannée, 2007), Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Literature (PULM, 2010), Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Arts being due in late 2011 (PULM) and The Ethics of Alterity in 19th- to 21st-Century British Literature (PULM 2013). He has also edited four volumes of essays in collaboration with Susana Onega, The Ethical Component in Experimental British Fiction since the 1960s (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), Trauma and Ethics in Contemporary British Literature (Rodopi, 2010), Trauma and Romance in Contemporary British Fiction (Routledge, 2013), and Contemporary Trauma Narratives: Liminality and the Ethics of form (Routledge, 2014). He has published extensively on contemporary British fiction, with a special interest in the ethics of affects (as manifest in such aesthetic resurgences and concretions as the baroque, kitsch, camp, melodrama, romance), trauma criticism and theory and the ethics of vulnerabilty in France and abroad.

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