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A State of Denmark by Derek Raymond
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A State of Denmark (1970)

by Derek Raymond

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Written in the ‘60s and re-released recently, the circumstances in Derek Raymond’s cult classic, A State of Denmark, draw parallels with those in Zimbabwe today, writes Aubrey Paton
ALTHOUGH the book was written nearly 40 years ago, it has a compelling, timeless quality: Derek Raymond, one of the first English noir novelists, paints a bleak picture of an alternative England, in which there is more than just “something rotten”.

SF — or Speculative Fiction — is a genre largely disregarded by the intelligentsia: exceptions are made for writers such as Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and, more importantly, George Orwell (Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four) but on the whole it is dismissed as trivial fantasy.

A State of Denmark is SF, although created by a precise and literary author: set in the ’60s, it is truly a novel of its time, with none of the science, fantasy or imaginative leaps of faith common to the genre.

Political journalist Richard Watt is forced to leave England when the Tory government is replaced by Labour, led by the ruthless Jobling, whom he has criticised and ridiculed. When Jobling becomes prime minister, Watt is blacklisted and cannot get work, so he sells up everything and invests it all in a small farm in beautiful but impoverished Tuscany.

From Italy he observes all his worst fears come true: he works like a slave producing wine and olive oil from a hostile soil, while “back home” the press is stifled and dismantled, unions are out-lawed, opposition is crushed, and Britain becomes a fascist, totalitarian regime.

The book was written in the ’60s, and the story might be no more than a slight exaggeration of how Raymond — who was born to great wealth but dropped out of Eton and privileged society at the age of 16 to join the criminal under-classes — viewed his disenchantment with the newly elected Labour government.

Watts watches as Scotland, then Wales, declare their independence, leaving England alone and impoverished, bereft of many of her major ports, mines and industrial centres: it is worth remembering that in the ’60s Scotland and Wales started chaffing under the English yoke, and secession was not an unlikely scenario.

Subsequent events confirm Watt’s wisdom in fleeing to Europe, and he discussed the English situation objectively with his new Italian friends, committed heart and soul to his present life, even putting his writing behind him as he tends to his vineyards and olive groves.

The first half of the book is a tender but unsentimental evocation of Tuscan life in the ’60s: before the influx of rich foreigners it was a hard land, with shrinking villages and increasing levels of poverty as the young fled to the cities in search of employment, and the scars of war and fascist rule were still raw after 20 years.

Despite his 14-hour work day, Watts is happy and secure, surrounded by sympathetic friends: back in England, first the Pakistanis and then the blacks are deported; there are curfews, secret police, worthless, devalued currency and military rule, and no one can get in or out. Parallels with Nazi Germany or — more recently — Mugabe’s Zimbabwe are inevitable.

Watt is forced to return to England and put in a concentration camp where, helpless and hopeless, he learns that any form of resistance is futile.

Totally convincing, thought-provoking, sharply and beautifully written, this is an intelligent novel by a greatly undervalued writer. Delicately observed, sensual yet economical, it is a persuasive account of how situations can turn around, how totalitarianism and dictatorship distort not only policy but perception. ( )
  adpaton | Nov 27, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 185242947X, Paperback)

“Raymond’s novel is rooted firmly in the dystopian vision of Orwell and Huxley, sharing their air of horrifying hopelessness.”—Sunday Times

It is the 1960s. England has become a dictatorship, governed by a sly, ruthless politician called Jobling. All non-whites have been deported, The English Times is the only newspaper, and ordinary people live in dread of nightly curfews and secret police. Derek Raymond’s skill is to make all too plausible the transition from complacent democracy to dictatorship in a country preoccupied by consumerism and susceptible to media spin.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:02 -0400)

It is the 1960s. England has become a dictatorship, governed by a sly, ruthless politician named Jobling. All non-whites have been deported, and ordinary people live in dread of nightly curfews and secret police. Derek Raymond's dark satire depicts a land preoccupied by consumerism and susceptible to media spin.… (more)

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