Ed O’Loughlin

First Sentence: A very wise old lady – her name was Martha Gellhorn: look her up – once told me that you can only really love one war.

This is one of those books that comes close to working, but somehow it just doesn’t quite get there. The premise is great; set in “the world’s first walled-off terrorist zone” it follows the residents, reporters, spies and military in their daily lives where something as simple as a washing machine (the American style top-loader, as opposed to the Rest-Of-The-World style front-loader) can create serious problems for this bunch of paranoid characters. Characters so paranoid they are constantly in fear of new, top-secret technologies and such things as “remote-controlled anti-terrorist bomb-dolphins”. Characters who misconstrue a simple piece of graffiti for a new terrorist symbol, and it is things like this – these characters consumed by wiki facts and chatrooms and discovery channel documentaries, that work the best, with some parts of this novel being reminiscent of Catch-22 at its finest. (It has also been compared to Slaughterhouse-Five, but for me they are two totally different books.) On the whole though, while it is certainly a good read and some parts really are laugh-out-loud funny (in a ‘this would be really funny if it didn’t ring so true’ kind of way) I just felt it came a little bit short being a great novel. It is however, very good.

* * *

Last Sentence: Somewhere in the darkness, far off down the damp, echoing tunnel, a donkey brayed.

Last Sentence explained:  The opening scene of this book is great and involves explosive donkeys as the new suicide bombers. As the (somewhat needlessly) complex plot unfolds and attacks are staged by unreliable media types for 24/7 news coverage (and war blogs like blow-back dot net), people get stuck in the embargoed zone. At the end of the book we discover that there is a  secret tunnel underneath the wall which the donkeys are being smuggled through and the last sentence is referencing that. Forget the last sentence though, and read this; my favourite sentence in the entire book: “Bewilderment and innocence skirmished for possession of the captain’s face, then sensibly called it a draw.” Now if only the whole book could be like that…


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