Dystopian satire sometimes hits a nerve because it reflects our collective anxieties. John Vane, in Frightgeist, transports us a few years into the future where London is recovering from a cataclysmic event known as “the plague”.
Taking place in an atmosphere in which conspiracy theories abound is the election for Mayor of London. Lorraine Linton, the mainstream incumbent, is facing a populist challenge from an entrepreneur-turned-reality-TV-star. Sound familiar?
London is pervaded by sulphurous distrust as it prepares to vote. High jinks, chaos and madness are fanned by the heatedness of social media. Swept up in the maelstrom is Mo, an idealistic young tech bro from Whitechapel. He blunders into the election and subverts it without meaning to.
Vane tells his story with elegantly incisive, scalpel-like prose. However, he imbues his comedy with a great deal of pathos. He probes far enough into the inner lives of his characters to find their relatability, if not their likeability. They might be familiar types, but they are elevated above the level of stereotype. Londoners will certainly recognise their city which, despite all the shenanigans on the page, is celebrated by the book.