Had O’Loughlin played his strokes with a straight bat, as he did in his debut novel, NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND, which was long-listed for the Booker Prize, then it’s likely the novel would have been a powerful and worthy novelisation of contemporary conflicts from around the globe. By setting the story in the near future, however, and giving it a blackly comic tone, O’Loughlin offers a hellish vision that combines a dystopian fatalism with a ghastly surrealism.
The result is comedy with dum-dum crosses carved into its punchlines, so that the horror explodes whenever O’Loughlin targets a new victim. Chief among these is Flint Driscoll, a blogger-journalist who blithely broadcasts his prejudiced opinions on the terrorists of the Embargoed Zone without ever planting his army-issue boots on the ground. Driscoll is aided and abetted by the conniving Captain Smith, his lackey Daddy Jesus, and their inept superior, Colonel White. Grotesques to a man, none of the characters would be out of place in CATCH 22 or DR STRANGELOVE as they set about manipulating the political situation for the sake of their personal advancement.
While the novel is laugh-out-loud funny, however, it’s in exploring the lives of the oppressed inhabitants of the Embargoed Zone that O’Loughlin lifts his novel out of the realms of audacious farce, by investing the story with poignant and profound truths about the human condition. By contrast with Flint Driscoll, O’Loughlin has had his boots on the ground in a similar situation, when he served as Middle-East correspondent for Australia’s ‘The Age’ newspaper. Thus we get heartbreaking detail amid the headline-grabbing scenes of carnage caused by the latest rocket-firing drone, when “dozens of kites wavered red and white and gold in the last rays of sunshine, each the focus of a child’s tethered dream.”
Meanwhile, the daily, grinding struggle for life’s basic requirements experienced by Joseph, the teenage Flora and all the other inhabitants of the Zone is compared by O’Loughlin in one memorable analogy as that of bulls in a bullring, as Flora explains to a soldier who has found himself lost behind enemy lines:
‘There’s a lot of money in bullfighting …There’s power, too. That’s why the Roman emperors spent all their money on circuses …’Cynical, funny, harrowing and revelatory, TOPLOADER is one of the most inventive Irish novels of recent times. - Declan Burke
‘That’s the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard.’
‘Thanks,’ she said.
This review first appeared in the Sunday Business Post.
While we’re on the topic of TOPLOADER, one of its protagonists, blogger-cum-journalist Dr Flint Driscoll (right), offers his insights into contemporary international events via his website, blowback.net. Here, for example, is Dr Flint on the assassination - alleged - of Osama Bin Laden:
“So that’s it then. We finally got the Big O. Victory is at hand. It’s time to bring the boys and girls back home from Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and Germany. President Barack Hussein Osama finally gets Uncle Sam some genuine pay-back for 9/11, and we can close this long and painful chapter in America’s gilded history.For more in the same vein, clickety-click here …
“Wrong, people. Wrong.
“I have yet to see any convincing proof that whoever they – and we don’t know who “they” really are – killed in Pakistan last night was really Osama Bin Laden. We don’t even know that a raid took place. Sure, they can show us some grainy photos of a crashed helicopter, but what does that prove? Mysterious black helicopters crash all the time in the woods near my house in Virginia. The difference is that this time the UN aren’t covering it up.
“These are ruthless, Godless, cunning people, who will stop at nothing to cling to their dream of global jihadi liberal domination. If you can fake a long-form Hawaii birth certificate, which uses a funny type of half-laminate paper, and has a Jack Lord watermark embedded against the grain, then this sort of thing is child’s play. Wise up, my friends: remember, these are the same people who faked two entire baseball World Series in 1992 and 1993, so the Toronto Blue Jays could appear to win. As if.
“So what really happened in Abbottabad last night? Well, I’ve been working the blogosphere all night, and I’ve come up with a pretty solid picture of the real turn of events. According to security sources whom I can’t name here, for technical reasons, the principle target of the “raid” was an Osama Bin Laden lookalike, who has been kept “on ice” by the national Democratic leadership and its Pakistani/Al Qaeda allies since shortly before the 2001 terror atrocities. With President Osama’s re-election campaign only eighteen months away, the time was ripe to cash in on this particular chip. Cue ticker-tape and hoopla. Hail to the Chief.
“So where is the real Osama Bin Laden, you ask me? Where he’s always been. Alive and well and living in Paris, like Khomeini before him, ready to go active again whenever the anti-American global elite needs him. A guy like that is far to useful to kill for real.” - Dr Flint Driscoll