‘Guantanamo UK’ & the Hotel California

The Facility by Simon Lelic

Simon Lelic’s first novel, Rupture, was such a breath of fresh air last year that when I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of his second, I could hardly wait to read it and for the publication date to get near.  Would it be as innovative as his stunning debut, Rupture, (which I reviewed here), or would it be a ‘difficult second novel’ ?

I’m please to report that it’s rather good. While lacking its predecessor’s way of interleaving a good police procedural with striking first person statements from those involved, The Facility is instead a thriller, and it does have a style all of its own…

As the book opens a prisoner called Arthur is being interrogated in violent fashion immersing us in strong language, torture and crudity on the part of the questioners. Immediately you are aware that reading the book will require a degree of stamina to cope with it. Chapter two switches to a secret government establishment; the Governor, Graves, is showing the a minister from the home office around the as yet unoccupied building…

Jenkins jabs his chin towards the centrepiece of the quad: a fountain, depicting Neptune in a chariot  behind three horses. ‘A touch extravagant, would you not say?”
‘It is hideous, I know.  The whole building, really, is an architectural chimera. His Majesty, for one, would not approve. There’s Gothic here, Romanesque there, Palladian  and Tudor in the outbuildings. None of it original, of course. Except for the staff quarters, which were  built in the fifties.’
‘You got it working, though. You left the damp but fixed the fountain.’
‘It was no great expense, minister. We felt it would be beneficial. The sound of running water, a place for the men and women to gather. You understand, I’m sure.’
‘They are prisoners, Graves.’
‘They will be imprisoned, minister. It is perhaps not quite the same thing.
‘Guff,’ says Jenkins. ‘Of course it’s the same thing.’

The scene is set, we’re in the near future – King Charles would appear to be on the throne.  The government du jour have put in place ‘The Unified Security Act’ which was designed for terrorists, but in practice let’s them do whatever they want to whomever they want.  ‘Guantanamo UK’ as a newspaper headline says in the book.

We’ve still one more thread to pick up – Arthur’s wife visits an investigative journalist, Tom, convinced her husband has been ‘disappeared’ wrongly by the police. They’re not telling, so Julia implores Tom to take up the case, and against his editor’s better judgement of it all being a conspiracy theory, he does.

The thriller then works out through these three voices – Arthur, the wrongly imprisoned man; Graves, the former prison Governor who is not happy being involved in this top-secret work; and Tom, searching for answers.   It soon becomes clear that most of the inmates are sick, but that Arthur is not. Government doctors arrive talking of trials for a cure, Graves finds himself overruled, largely impotent to help and essentially trapped – ‘you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave’ as the Eagles sang in Hotel California. I found Graves the most interesting character by far as he comes to realise his own guilt at being part of this plan.

‘What if’ novels always have big questions at their heart.  For all we know, we could already have a dormant ‘plague-hospital’ in a sparsely populated area of the country. The author shows some anger at the way people who have not been charged with anything can be treated; at homophobia and racism; political double-speak; and so on. For the most part, he doesn’t attempt to answer any of the questions, leaving them hanging, keeping you thinking about them. In this way he subverts the thriller genre with this pessimistic view of the near future.

This is a bleak and unsettling book which I really enjoyed reading.  Rupture was a ‘Whydunnit’; The Facility is a ‘What if’ – I wonder which question his third book will pose? (8/10)

I picked up this book as my Quizmaster’s perks last autumn. For some other reviews, visit Farm Lane Books and Follow the Thread.

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To purchase from Amazon UK, click below:
The Facility
Rupture
Hotel California by The Eagles

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6 thoughts on “‘Guantanamo UK’ & the Hotel California

  1. I read and enjoyed Rupture, but this sounds a bit bleak for me at the moment.
    I am so busy with work and family (seven one day public consultation events at 10 hours a time for work and the arrival of William Patrick and Isabella Alice two weeks ago for the family!) that my reading time is seriously curtailed so I am going for easy reads or short stories at the moment – and by the sound of it this book is definitely not an easy read!
    One for the future perhaps!
    Babies and mum are doing well and big sister Amelia is getting used to it!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this one too, but I did find it to be the difficult second novel. I didn’t think it was as good as Rupture, but perhaps that is because I’ve read about this subject matter several times before. Rupture was unique in both writing style and its approach to the subject matter, whilst this was just a very good thriller. I am looking forward to seeing which question his third book poses though 🙂

  3. I havent read any of his books yet and am now hoping Rupture isnt one of the books that might have gone awol in the move (a big bag of books has completely vanished never to be returned) I shall have to have a hunt but will be most cross now if its not there. This one sounds really interesting two and certainly shows Lelic is no one trick pony!

  4. This is a new author for me and I am definitely going to look him up. I think I need to read both Rupture and this one judging from your reviews

  5. I read it and will be reviewing it in the next few days. I also read The Concert Ticket and have just reviewed it – what a great book it is – looks likely to be in my top ten for 2011 unless the year is full of other excellent books.

  6. Pingback: Murder – the lawyer’s tale « Gaskella

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