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Quality left-wing fiction makes its mark

This has been a rich year for left-wing fiction, both realist and surrealist.

Two of the most outstanding novels over the past 12 months were set in the Americas but were far apart both in location and period.

John Wight's Dreams that Die is a sharp-toothed and candid account of the author's ultimately failed attempt to make it big in Hollywood as a screenwriter, which documents his and other film workers' struggles to get by on the extras circuit.

But Wight's dying film career memorably contrasts with his growing political awakening and involvement in the anti-war movement in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Conversely, The Snake And The Condor occurs after the violent overthrow of a government. Robert Southam's passionate tale of two lovers who cross the class and racial divides entrenched in Chile under Pinochet's ghastly regime is an informed and moving account of the violence inherent in fascism.

Paul Hoggart's A Man Against A Background Of Flames is also saturated in violence, in this case that wreaked by criminal gangs and religious nut-jobs upon an academic and his collaborators who uncover evidence of a 400-year-old suppressed agnostic sect which challenges the power structures of the contemporary rich and powerful.

As expansive in its scope and even more ambitious in its characterisation, DD Johnston's The Deconstruction Of Professor Thrub spans poverty-stricken Belfast, the Spanish civil war and Hungary 1956. A galloping discussion of free will and skit on academic life, it's a book that frequently explodes with raw and unexpurgated humour.

Finally, a book far more constrained in time and location. How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is Anthony Cartwright's homage to a Dudley family in the early 1980s as they experience the false premises and harsh realities of a government nearly as reactionary as the present one.

The tone slips between the gritty exposure of working-class communities being devastated and the only slightly fantastical thoughts of a young boy trying to work out who is to blame and what to do about her. Excellent.

Paul Simon

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