Volume 91, Issue 17

Thursday, September 25, 1997

sacre bleu


Guts in the writing without the gore

The Last Thing She Wanted
Joan Didion
Vintage International

$16.95 / 227 pgs.

With her first novel in 12 years, American novelist Joan Didion has served up a thriller of espionage, conspiracy and covert action that doesn't play by the popular rules of traditional spy novels. Sure, all the necessary themes of deception, paranoia, stealth, power, greed and corruption are here. And so too are the shadowy, amoral figures, the bureaucratic thugs, the arms deals, the acronyms and impenetrable codes, and of course the obligatory Third World location to serve as a backdrop to the action.

But Didion, instead of having the righteous, chauvinistic hero of Tom Clancy novels or the existential civil servant of John Le Carre's novels, has opted not to have a central protagonist that the reader can latch on to. Rather, Didion has created an "omniscient author." In this case, it is an unnamed journalist who is researching a book on the events that took place on an unnamed Caribbean island in 1984. At the centre of the action is journalist Elena McMahon who walks off the presidential campaign she is covering for a major newspaper to do a favour for her ailing father. Elena's father does deals but the deal she steps in for goes horribly wrong.

Didion has a dazzling eye for detail and has obviously spent time reading intelligence reports. In a dry, understated style of reportage, she creates a world of menace and tension that doesn't rely on cheap thrills or blood and guts. Didion writes in precise, clipped language comparable to the Hemingway and the late Raymond Carver. And in the process, she has captured the frightening, immoral world of '80s U.S. foreign policy.

–Richard Moule

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Copyright The Gazette 1997