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Reviewed by: Arthur Graham
Genre: Literary Satire
Approximate word count: 90,000-95,000 words
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Roland Denning is a UK-based writer and filmmaker. The Beach Beneath the Pavement is his first novel. For more information, see the book’s official website.
Bernard Hawkes is a cynical, disillusioned journalist who finds himself in a spot of trouble when someone starts enacting the theoretical terrorist plots described in his satirical newspaper column. So begins this sardonic tale of conspiracies within conspiracies set in modern day London.
With the sinister Tranquility Foundation (a New Age conglomerate promising “serenity with security”) on one side and the Primitive Front (a group bent on shaking people out of such complacency) on the other, Bernard’s previously humdrum existence suddenly becomes quite interesting as he is drawn ever deeper into the intrigue behind the bombings. Adding to his problems are Inspector Pitmarsh, the paradoxically chummy yet menacing police detective, a vivacious young revolutionary calling herself Animal, and Dillwyn, his alternatively rational and paranoid neighbor.
The book’s title is a reference to the 1968 leftist revolt against the French de Gaulle regime, of which the slogan sous les pavés, la plage (under the paving stones, the beach) came to be one of the central rallying points. This simple statement was meant as a reminder that, for all its claims to legitimacy, our so-called civilization is merely a thin veneer overlying a much less rigidly structured natural world. Since bricks and stones have proven handy weapons in popular uprisings from Watts to Gaza and all points in between, the slogan is both literally and symbolically relevant to the idea of revolution, which comes to be one of the book’s central themes. Unfortunately for Bernard, however, there may be more than one layer of paving stones between him and the truth...
Too many novels fail to address the underlying issues of the day, and of those that do, fewer still manage to pull it off with any kind of genuine insight. With The Beach Beneath the Pavement, we find a rare read that educates as well as it entertains. For while neither Denning nor his protagonist seem to draw a very hard line where sociopolitical struggles are concerned, and while it neglects to answer most of the bigger questions it raises, this book will likely leave responsive readers with a newfound appreciation for both skepticism and belief where such matters are concerned.
The characters are interesting and believable, and the dialogue between them serves to illuminate their unique personalities and the world they create. The text itself is very well written, and despite its episodic nature, the various plotlines are easy enough to follow and piece together.
Much of the conflict between the characters and their respective factions is explained through the lens of Post-Credibility, a theoretical framework employed to describe the paradigm we currently inhabit. Greatly exasperated by mass communication technologies, the Era of Post-Credibility is curious in that so much information is so readily available these days that people actually have no idea what to believe. So engrained is the resultant skepticism that Cred Havens – points in space and time where even those mistrusting everything will believe – must be artificially manufactured in order to provoke the desired reaction in the world’s masses. It’s probably best not to mention who exactly is pulling the puppet strings throughout the story (and to what effect), but let it suffice to say that such multi-dimensional power plays remain central to the plot.
For readers unfamiliar or uninterested in conspiracy theories, the history of popular uprisings, and the larger forces (real and imagined) both before and behind them, this book may prove to be a bit of a challenge. But for those who sense that the biggest conspiracy of all may be the one in which we ourselves are the conspirators, The Beach Beneath the Pavement is sure to please.
The author is from the UK and uses UK slang and spelling conventions.
The book contains some adult language/sexual situations.
This is a review of the original 2009 paperback edition. The version available for Kindle readers is the 2011 Austerity Edition, which has undergone substantial cuts to the original manuscript. As Roland explains, “I cut out a character that nobody liked, shaved down a sub-plot and added one new chapter. It was the least I could do to contribute to the nation's current mood of despair and futility.”
No significant issues.
Rating: ***** Five stars