The Catastrophist

A Novel

About The Book

The Catastrophist is a brilliant, highly acclaimed novel of love, passion, violence, and desire, set in the Belgian Congo in 1959. While expatriates loll about their pools in a colonial paradise soon to erupt into chaos, huge crowds are drawn to the charismatic Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba -- and his even more dangerous rivals.
One man sees the cracks appearing around him and struggles to hold on to his lover, his sanity, and ultimately, his life. Gillespie, the outsider, a journalist, is in Léopoldville for the beautiful Italian, Inés. He is desperate for her love, while she is obsessed with the unfolding drama, caught up in history, ideology, hero worship.
In a world slipping out of control, gripped by disgust, fear, and incomprehension, Gillespie feels that events threaten to overwhelm him -- as does his friendship with the amiable but sinister American, Stipe; his relationship with his canny native driver, Auguste; and, above all, his love for Inès.
It is Inès who defines Gillespie as a catastrofista, an Italian word for somebody for whom "no problem is small. Nothing can be fixed; it is always the end," for Gillespie is deeply pessimistic and skeptical about their relationship as well as politics, while Inès believes in engagement and commitment, whatever the risks -- which, as it turns out, are greater than either of them can foresee.
As colonial corruption and injustice give way to turmoil, brutality, and murder, Gillespie is finally forced to confront what is happening before his eyes. In subtle, haunting prose, Ronan Bennett captures the complex connection between the personal and the political, between cruelty and lust, between eroticism and love, between courage and fear, between detachment and involvement.
The Catastrophist is a bold, courageous novel, at once a searing love story and a terrifying political thriller, in the tradition of such books as Graham Greene's The Comedians or such postcolonial classics as The Year of Living Dangerously -- an erotic Heart of Darkness for the twentieth century.

About The Author

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Ronan Bennett was brought up in Belfast. He is the author of three novels -- The Second Prison, Overthrown by Strangers, and, most recently, The Catastrophist (shortlisted for the 1998 Whitbread Novel Award). He has also written screenplays for film and television. Ronan Bennett lives in London with his family.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 2001)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743213370

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Raves and Reviews

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt The New York Times Marvelous...irresistible: as melodrama, as psychological portrait, and as a story of moral conflict....Mr. Bennett has written a political novel with many shots going off, but with every sound in tune.

Karen Sandstrom The Cleveland Plain Dealer Ravishing...call this a political love story or a romantic history; either term suffices, but neither does it justice. This is a big novel, fueled by passion and ideas...the kind of book you savor while reading, then return to in memory for a long time to come.

Rob Stout The Dallas Morning News One of the most extraordinary thrillers in recent years.

Dick Adler Chicago Tribune A splendidly stylish thriller...chronicled with the dark energy of Joseph Conrad and the cool irony of Graham Greene.

Tony Mastrogiogio San Francisco Chronicle For those who have assumed that the literary thriller had gone to the grave with Graham Greene, The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett is proof that novels of political intrigue can still be morally complex and driven by character....A major talent and a first-rate mind.

Marc Schogol The Philadelphia Inquirer A tale of love amid the ruins...tautly told [and] deeply telling about the human condition.

The New Yorker One afternoon, James is attending a party in an elegant colonialist house; the next, he finds himself being shot at, tortured, and lied to -- by the Congolese, by the CIA, and by Inès herself. Even in the midst of it all, he sees these events as 'the stuff of farce, not tragedy'; that they are in fact both is the success of Bennett's unusual story.

Rob Stout The Dallas Morning News The tragic voice of Gillespie...sets this work apart. Just beneath the narrative's surface, readers will find a novel seeking to resolve itself by illuminating the darker sides of life and personal longing, not to mention politics, race, and empire. Mr. Bennett has written one of the most extraordinary thrillers in recent years.

Claire Messud The Washington Post Book World Engrossing and impressive...The Catastrophist crackles with genuine life.

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