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Confessions Of A Terrorist
by Richard Jackson
(Zed Books, £16.99)
Two men confront each other across a table in an airless, bland interrogation room in Richard Jackson's extraordinarily intense debut novel, due out in May.
One, "the Professor," is a thoughtful, well-informed but angry Islamicist fighter, his world view comprehensively framed within the context of hundreds of years of Western imperialism and its resulting genocides and injustices.
Michael is the other, a more cautious, emotionally neutral and narrowly legalistic British intelligence officer, whose very reticence to venture beyond his professional brief underlines the moral ambiguity of his role and situation.
Written in the form of a redacted transcript virtually the only voices - aside from the scribbled comments of a third party, presumably a senior British official obsessed with any resulting publicity and awkward questions - are those of the Professor and Michael alone.
Within this simple framework, Jackson offers the reader an experience far more compelling than a mere piece of recorded bureaucracy.
The book reads like a work for the theatre, something from the pen of Ariel Dorfman or David Mamet perhaps. It certainly has the intensity, menace and use of nuance of these two masters.
At first their prolonged exchange is dominated by the Professor's confessions, punctuated by the occasionally sharp questions from the British soldier. But the conversation slowly, inexorably tilts towards firstly a more equal dialogue and then one which gives the latter the dominant voice and a most disturbing one at that.
The only partially answered questions as to who is the terrorist and indeed who is the interrogator provides a serrated emotional edge running along the entirety of the book.
But while we get to understand a little more of Michael including his family life and mental health issues, Jackson gives the most sympathetic and searching sentences to his Egyptian adversary. The Professor's fury at Western governments explodes off the walls of the room splintering the self-imposed ignorance of the other man.
By the violent conclusion of his novel, Jackson has more than adequately demonstrated the utter meaninglessness of the word terrorist as generically applied to those facing Western military might.
A book that's too important not to read - buy it when it comes out.
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