Tristram Shandy, Cock and Bull and The Dream of the Decade

By: Edward Victor


Just as Michael Winterbottom’s screen adaptation of Tristram Shandy hits the big screen in the UK (hot on the heels of 24 Hour Party People and the controversial 9 Songs), a quartet of novels, “The Dream of the Decade”, resuscitates the ghost of Laurence Sterne.

The second of the four novels in one volume, former Al Jazeera journalist, Afshin Rattansi, has written in roman fleuve the story of Londoners coming to terms with their relationships at a time of perceived terrorist-attack.

If the film, starring comedian Steve Coogan doesn’t stick too much to the plot, Rattansi sticks to the ethos of Sterne by painting a impressionist account of the drinkers and diners at a singles’ bar in central London – as they realise that their being trapped by the circumstances of a bomb-threat mirrors their on feelings of claustrophobia:

Extract from “Reproach”, second novel in the quartet, “The Dream of the Decade” by Afshin Rattansi (ISBN 1-4196-1686-2), out March 2006.

“Suddenly, because it is, the rumours begin to fill the already smoky atmosphere as twilight returns. The ties in evidence as the rumours are the bomb. And as night falls, this is no ordinary night at the bar. The doors have been locked as the scare begins. The police in evidence outside as the room hushes with murmurs. The defusing of the bomb is the order and we are the victims. So the doors have been locked and the screeches of a stray car are like bullets hitting your spine. How long are we in here?

Chapter 2

A romantic image. Trapped and this time the eyes are looking different. It’s the knowing. She looks with worry. He looks with hesitation. Conversations easier to strike up now. Easier because of not knowing what the next minutes will tell. She asks for a light and it begins, classic I suppose. No one can see me clinging to my counter and watching the uneasiness shift, from bombs to moves. Worn-out chess analogies and the quiet skies, completely still. What’s underneath? A complete and conscious concentration as they move like symmetry tasting the tops of the glasses and gently tipping it like threading a needle. Different? I can’t hear but the eyes are different and maybe this is the only circumstance that can give conversation its extra airs. Fear that should be there all the time, that is there all the time, now slowly uncovered as the room recovers slightly from the initial cries of the owner: “We have to lock up, there’s been a bomb and the services are trying their best to defuse it.”
That’s all that’s needed, for the couples to silently scream at each other. The real-romance is suppressed but it has been just a few minutes from the message. One girl is crying and her friend is smiling with embarrassment as she puts her arm around hers. I give it a couple of minutes and look down at the newspaper, past its rapes and murders and to the wider world. It is only that that affects. The two leaders blasting. It has only been a couple of minutes and me, this satellite of love, watch the arms go around with caution. But the symmetry is consistent. And this time the lights go out as ten lighters knock their flints and I help take the candles out. But for a while it’s a misty darkened twilight with the yellows of the lampposts poking through and the flicker of a drag from a cigarette, with the sad accompaniment of tears.”

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Edward Victor is an agent for the writer, Afshin Rattansi, a former journalist for Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN International.

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