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Russell Hoban

MR RINYO-CLACTON'S OFFER


Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Russell Hoban wrote a number of excellent novels, several of which are already reviewed on this site. Between 1987 and 1996 he produced no new novels, but after this nine-year gap he returned to adult fiction with several more novels, working in spite of increasing ill-health. He died at the end of 2011.

Like many of Hoban's novels, this one is a first-person narration. The story is told by Jonathan Fitch, a young man who has lost the girl he loves because she found out that he had been carrying on with a large number of other women behind her back. He bitterly regrets this and is sitting on the floor, drunk and in despair, at the top of the stairs in the Piccadilly Tube station, where he is accosted by the eponymous Mr Rinyo-Clacton. He is a tall powerful man of enormous wealth (though the source of his wealth is never specified).

He invites Jonathan to the opera, and although Jonathan suspects - rightly, as it turns out—that this is a pickup, he accepts the offer, goes to the opera with Mr Rinyo-Clacton, and then returns to the man's flat, where he allows himself, for the first time in his life, to be sodomised. But this, in a sense, is incidental. Mr Rinyo-Clacton's real purpose is to buy Jonathan's death. He will pay him a million pounds, in cash, which Jonathan will have a year to enjoy. At the end of the year Mr Rinyo-Clacton will have the right to Jonathan's death, which seems to mean that he can kill him, although that is never made fully clear.

Jonathan decides to go along with this scheme. He signs a legal document accepting the conditions and he is duly given the million pounds. But he soon has second thoughts, and seeks the help of an elderly German woman of Jewish descent who claims to be a psychic and does, in fact, appear to have gifts of this kind.

The rest of the novel follows Jonathan's attempt to resume his relationship with his girl friend, Serafina, and to free himself from Mr Rinyo-Clacton, whom he fears and hates yet at the same time feels a certain affinity for. The dramatic tension is kept up until the end, which has a genuinely surprising twist.

In tone the novel is reminiscent of Hoban's earlier The Medusa Frequency, which also was a first-person narrative about lost love, but this one is darker and more death-obsessed. Still, there are numerous humorous touches—Hoban had a genuine talent for comedy, though it is mostly pretty black here. Mr Rinyo-Clacton is, of course, an appalling human being, yet we are made to feel he is himself a victim—of what? Fate? Life? Death? But neither of the two main male characters is portrayed in a favourable light, in contrast to the women, whom Hoban evidently preferred.

This is an impressive book but I liked it less than some of Hoban's earlier work, notably The Medusa Frequency. In the earlier novel the narrator's fantastic experiences could be explained as due to the effects of an experiment on his brain, but in this one we are apparently expected to take the psychic's intuitions at face value, and I felt that to be a weakness. We are not left free to make up our own minds about this; Hoban is imposing his own view on the reader.

13 January 2012

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%T Mr Rinyo-Clacton's Offer
%A Hoban, Russell
%I Jonathan Cape
%C London
%D 1998
%G ISBN 0224051210
%P 182pp
%K fiction

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