Saturday, March 18, 2006

Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson

It's rare for me to race through a book during 'term-time' (i.e. when I'm not lazing around on holiday), but the 400-odd pages of Rupert Thomson's latest, Divided Kingdom, were dispatched in just under a week, which is tantamount to unputdownable for me when you factor in work and sleep and the fact I'm a really slow reader. Admittedly, I've been a fan of Thomson's for years, ever since I stumbled upon The Book of Revelation in a three-for-two deal in Waterstones and inadvertently found myself a new favourite author. I've now read five of his seven novels are they're all absolute belters.

Divided Kingdom is set in the UK in a parallel present in which rising crime and racial tensions have forced the government to have a radical rethink, the outcome of which is The Rearrangement - the dividing up of the population into four groups according to temperament (sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic). This precipitates a geographical division of the country as the groups are required to remain apart from one another for the fragile equilibrium to be maintained.

Whilst this initial premise feels like a big ask of the reader, those willing to suspend their disbelief will be richly rewarded with a novel of tremendous narrative force. By throwing off the constraints of verisimilitude, Thomson affords himself a giant canvas on which to explore fundamental questions of identity and difference.

I won't detail any more of the plot, as that never serves as an effective inducement in my experience, but instead point you in the direction of the personality test on the official website which promises to reveal how you would be assigned in The Rearrangement (I came out as sanguine).

Divided Kingdom is available in paperback from 3rd April 2006 and can be pre-ordered from Amazon for £3.99.