Monday, 1 November 2010


As a fan of grim dystopias and world-goes-to-hell narratives, I was intrigued by a post at The Age of Uncertainty two years ago about a writer and a book that was completely new to me. The writer was David Karp, and the book was One.

Now Westholme Publishing have resurrected One, and deservedly so. It is a fascinating, deeply unsettling book. What little there is to be found online about the book draws the obvious comparison with Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, which came out a couple of years earlier. But that comparison isn't to One's discredit: it is a remarkable book. As an investigation into power, the State, the costs of utopianism, and the manipulation of language, it is a powerful and provoking novel. The fact that the opening seems to reveal a comfortable, suburban world far removed from Airstrip One's constant war and brutality only stengthens the blow that comes when you find out what the state will do to preserve itself.

It has also made me copy The Age of Uncertainty, and start hunting down Karp's other books, like the satisfyingly 'Mad Men'-ish Leave Me Alone.

Here is the Westholme edition of One:

I like the cover, but I wonder how well it will work for people who aren't me. The reason it works for me is that it uses a detail from a poster advertising Fritz Lang's great dystopian-utopian movie 'Metropolis', a copy of which I had hanging in my office for several years, so the image and its resonances are very familiar to me. If you didn't know the poster or film, though, does it carry much meaning?

By an odd coincidence, this is the second novel I've read in the past month that uses a 'Metropolis' promotional poster for its cover. Ernst Jünger's Aladdin's Problem, a strange novella about a German man who decides to start a business running a vast necropolis in the Turkish desert--a huge underground city for the eternal storage of the dead, uses this montage by Boris Bilinsky, made up of frames from the film.

For more on 'Metropolis' and book covers, see here.

With many thanks to Steerforth, who gave me my copy of One.


alantotter said...

Thought I'd throw in this link to the always-interesting Peter Mendelsund writing about DFW wanting a Metropolis image on the cover of Infinite Jest:

Kevin Arthur said...

I like the cover, though I didn't recognize the image. It looks sufficiently dystopian and aesthetically pleasing on its own.

The book sounds worthwhile (ordering now). The other two from that Westholme series also sound interesting, especially Limbo by Bernard Wolfe.

JRSM said...

Alan: Thank you for that--very interesting.

Kevin: I'm glad. And 'Limbo' is NUTS, in the best possible way: a competitive "war" of limb-lopping as a way to make the future safe...