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The Allegations by Mark Lawson

The Allegations

by Mark Lawson

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Ned Marriott, a history professor and presenter of TV documentaries, is arrested on charges of rape, relating to alleged events which took place 38 and 10 years ago respectively. His colleague, Tom Pimm, is dismissed from his university post for bullying and insubordination, although he is not entitled to know the identities of his accusers and is not entitled to due legal process.

The novel is about the effect of the allegations on the lives of Ned and Tom and those around them. It explores various issues, including whether if some one takes offence then the other person has automatically been offensive, whether men should be judged in the light of the culture of today for actions they took decades ago and whether "innocent until proven guilty" has any meaning any longer with the court of public opinion/social media pronouncing sentence. There are also various sections where the two men read and muse on literature (e.g. Kafka's "Trial") where a protagonist is unjustly accused of a crime.

I wanted to like this novel more than I did. I found it very readable, although there were some editing issues (we are told on three separate occasions about the approach Emma and her book club take to reading novels and then later Ned tries to persuade Emma to have sex with him one page before we are told of his "complete loss of libido").

Tom's dilemma was extremely well portrayed, I thought. He was clearly his own worst enemy (should have stayed in his union) and I found it far easier to sympathize with him than with Ned. Ned was such an unpleasant character, again lacking in self-awareness, claiming he had learnt how important it was to make sure a woman is really consenting, when his dealings with Emma would tend to undermine this.

Overall the story was very male centred; we had Cordelia to provide a more distanced perspective, but we had been encourage to dislike her as a bully to her sister. Emma and more particularly Helen are quite opaque. Although sections are told from their perspective they never really came alive to me. Why did Ogg behave as he did to Ned? Was it Neades or Agate who was out to get Tom?

Despite the humour, I found this book a bit self-pitying and I wanted to tell Ned and Tom that they brought the allegations on themselves, even if not directly. ( )
  pgchuis | Aug 9, 2016 |
Although he is principally known as a journalist and broadcaster, Mark Lawson is also a very accomplished novelist, and this latest book will serve to boost that reputation further. Until a couple of years ago Lawson was the lead presenter on BBC Radio 4’s daily arts review programme, Front Row, in which he demonstrated his eclectic knowledge across a variety of genres, and showed that one did not have to subside into flaccid sycophancy when interviewing artists. He was, however, moved from that show with relatively little notice, with rumours attributing his removal to allegations of bullying. That clearly rankled, though I suppose everything in life is potentially valuable copy for a novelist, and his experiences have clearly informed this marvellous novel.

There are two closely intertwined plots. In the principal storyline, Ned Marriott, a celebrated television historian, known for his controversial takes on familiar historical events, finds himself arrested on the day following his sixtieth birthday, accused of an unusual variation of a historical instance of sexual assault stretching back nearly forty years to the sweltering summer of 1976, when Ned was still a postgraduate student. Ned’s world starts to unravel as the police pursue their investigations, confiscating all his family’s computers, tablets and mobile telephones. Never a complete stranger to hypochondria anyway, Ned’s health suffers and he finds himself on a heady cocktail of anti-depressants and blood pressure medications. Lawson’s portrayal of a bewildered and frightened man having to inform his family (grown up twin daughters from a first marriage, a nine-year-old son from his current relationship and his ageing mother and stepfather) of the charges laid against him is adroit. Ned’s life seems fixed permanently on hold while the police continue to delve into his past. It takes a while before Ned’s name comes into the public domain, but once it does, it creates a huge stir across social media. He also finds himself in the hitherto unfamiliar position of no longer being wanted as a television pundit.

Meanwhile Tom Pimm, Ned’s closest friend, and fellow academic in the history faculty of the University of Middle England (with twin campus sites in Coventry and Buckinghamshire), finds himself the subject of an investigation into allegations of bullying. Tom is certainly a pedant, given to feelings of intellectual superiority over some of the less gifted among his academic colleagues, but he is aghast at the thought that he might be a bully. He is soon finding himself a victim, however, as anonymous accusations are stacked against him. Both find themselves on suspension while their respective investigations drag on. Lawson uses the investigation into Tom Pimm to lampoon hollow management jargon and over-eager political correctness, but the Kafkaesque procedure (Lawson offers an instructive course in the literature of false or groundless accusation throughout the work as both Ned and Tom find themselves increasingly obsessed with literary paradigms of their own circumstances) is chilling. Internal disciplinary procedures are necessary but can bring their own terrors if not handled sensitively. Meanwhile the shadow of Operation Yew Tree looms oppressively over the whole story.

The linked plots are delicately balanced, and complement each other. While the description of the scenario may sound sombre, the novel is extremely funny: gallows humour from both Ned and Tom, and crushing satire about the over commercialisation of universities, where students are now referred to as customers, and where a lecturer is criticised for pitching his lectures at too clever a level.

All in all a great success – if anything, I found it even better than Lawson’s last novel, The Deaths, which was one of my favourite books from the year it was published. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jul 19, 2016 |
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"The Allegations makes frequent and pertinent reference to other works about false accusations, including Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. A less expected influence is Jim Davidson’s autobiography No Further Action: The Darkest Year of My Life, which Lawson cites among his acknowledgments as “an eye-opening account of legal and reporting practises ..."
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