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DISSECTING THE BLUE-BLOODED MONSTER

JOE PEARCE

A Very Peculiar Practice: The New Frontier (Methuen 272pp, £10.95) is Andrew Davies's first novel for adults. It begins with the arrival of Jack Daniels, the new American Vice-Chancellor, at the crumbling University of Lowlands.

He has money, lots of it, and a mission to transform the old-style university into a spearhead of the New Knowledge, an embodiment of the values of the 'Free World'. He desires the creation of a useful university, by which he means that all it teaches must be relevant and up to date, and last but not least the whole must become economically viable.

The university's staff are thus thrust into their new and challenging roles. Innovative departments are set up, among them in the Medical Centre (the “very peculiar practice” of the title) are male sexuality workshops, research based massage units and a Body Lab.

Davies's comedy at this point is gently mocking, poking fun at his characters who push these new ideas just a little too far. For instance, Dr Buzzard declared that the Body Lab was brilliant and that "once it was running, no one need see or touch a patient again."

DARKEN

Yet very quickly the climate, and the humour, begin to darken. The more perceptive characters soon see murky facts, lurking beneath the outward gloss of Daniels's policies. These policies not only aim to squeeze the humanities, which are considered non-utilitarian and non-profit making, but to judge the success of all departments solely on the criteria of outside funding and profitability.

Thus the sinister Professor Middling is given top marks for his innovative 'pyramid failing policy', whereby cost-effectiveness is ensured by sending down the majority of students before they reach their second year.

Thus also, high marks are given to Accommodation for pushing up rents to such an extent that students (now forced to live like tramps in cardboard shacks) can't afford them, so allowing space to be hired out to businesses.

Ironically, all this causes rather than cures diseases. As the novel's hero, Dr Stephen Daker, remarks: "We're actually starting to get students coming into surgery whose illnesses are poverty-related."

A further twist in the tale emerges when it materialises that the Vice Chancellor's money comes ultimately from dubious origins, namely the Thomas Jefferson North Atlantic Trust. "One speaks as an ignorant layman, of course", says George Bunn the professor of English, "but aren't those the chaps who give chaps money to find new ways of killing other chaps?" Furthermore, the innovative new department of 'Electroacoustics' is exposed as being involved in secret weapons research, investigating what is called the 'critical resonance' of matter. Find this and people, buildings and cities can be made to shatter like the proverbial wine glass before an opera singer.

Once Jack Daniel's sinister intentions come to light, opposition to his regime mounts. A small campus revolution ensues, is quelled by the police, and by the end of the novel Lowlands University has been transformed into a high security centre for military-based research.

POWER OF SATIRE

Andrew Davies's first adult novel illustrates the penetrating power of satire. Using this tried and trusted mode of humour he dissects the essential nature of Reaganomics and Thatcherism, slicing through the skin of these blue-blooded monsters to reveal the cynicism which lurks within. Indeed, it is scarcely possible to look upon the intrinsic nature of capitalism without being insistantly and instantly reminded of Oscar Wilde's description of a cynic as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Besides satire, fiction is another powerful means of registering a political point. Witness, for instance, the profound effect which Dickens's novels had in highlighting the plight of the illiterate masses to the literate few and, more importantly, in making the latter realise that the former shared in a common humanity with them.

Witness also the power of 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, or Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail, all of which prized open and penetrated the consciousness of their respective readers more thoroughly than any non-fictional work covering the same themes could have hoped to do.

While Andrew Davies's first offering may not be in the same league as the aforementioned masterpieces, A Very Peculiar Practice: The New Frontier still makes its point more poignantly than any stolid text book ever could. As such, it makes worthy addition to the library of any Nationalist who can afford the asking price of £10.95.