August 03rd, 2011

The Revisionists review

By Bernice Watson 

Author: Thomas Mullen

Published by: Mulholland Books

Release date: 28 September 2011 

When I started reading The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen I was expecting a science fiction thriller. What I got was more of a post-modern, spy thriller with just a touch of time travel. Maybe. 

To put you in the picture, the novel follows four main characters who initially have no connection to one another. As events unfold their paths converge. Zed, aka Troy Jones, is the only first person narrator. Sent back from humanity’s utopian future to protect the integrity of the timeline from dissident radicals who want to disrupt crucial ‘Events,’ Zed wades through the morass of contemporary society inflicting extreme violence on his targets. Leo is a former government spook who fell from grace and now grovels bitterly at the bottom of the international intelligence ladder. Tasha is a corporate lawyer who is desperately searching for information about her brother’s death while serving in the Middle East. Finally there’s Sari, an Indonesian domestic servant working for the South Korean ambassador and suffering abuse at the hands of his wife. Despite this Sari is too painfully isolated from the country outside the walls of the home she works in to get help. 

What I most enjoyed about this novel was the way characters and situations continued to change and evolve. It quickly became apparent to me that I’d make an absolutely terrible spy because most of the twists and turns in the narrative completely blindsided me. It wasn’t just events that kept the story fresh and exciting but the characters too. No one character was the hero and some wavered constantly from being the ‘good guys’ to being quite the opposite. They were flawed and they made mistakes, ultimately they were not infallible James Bond-types but individuals who could make a mess of things or have undeniably questionable motives. 

It would be tempting to class The Revisionists as a post-modern novel. There are questions of identity and knowledge throughout. The most vivid case of this is Zed but also Sari and Leo who both suffer very different crises of identity and belonging. The exchange of information is paramount but the information given or received is rarely reliable and often false. There is a continuing theme of disillusionment with the ‘American Dream’ and a questioning of where American corporate culture could ultimately lead if it is allowed to evolve unopposed. Mullen weaves in an Orwellian flavour that is especially apparent in the sections of the book - that discuss the ‘Perfect Present’ from which Zed hails. The idea of a society that has eyes everywhere and is intimately involved in every detail of citizens’ lives is then reflected in the ongoing machinations of various shady government and private sector groups in the present day parts of the story. 

There were points where the prose seemed a little too carefully crafted, almost self-conscious of itself.  There was a feeling at times that Mullen was writing in a style slightly outside his natural tone and this rendered some turns of phrase clunky and awkward. Mostly however the writing was rich in detail and nuance, a real pleasure to read. It reminded me in places of the work of Paul Auster or Don DeLillo, both true masters of the post-modern American novel.

Overall, The Revisionists is a very satisfying read that raises many interesting questions about how far we in the Western World are prepared to go to protect the ideals of freedom and democracy. So, if you’re looking for a good thriller with a touch of science fiction and a dash of political discourse, then I’d recommend you get yourself a copy.

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