Thursday, 25 February 2016

Rapid Reviews : The Obsession by GF Newman

GF Newman is the kind of writer famed for tackling the big issues and courting controversy. On television he was well known for the groundbreaking 1978 mini-series Law and Order which shed a light on the corruption at the heart of our police force and penal systems. He followed this up with the 1983 mini-series The Nation's Health which addressed the ruination of the NHS at the hands of Thatcher's heartless conservative government. 

As a novelist, GF Newman is perhaps most famous for Sir, You Bastard, a stunning debut that followed the corrupt career of an ambitious young Scotland Yard detective and helped pave the way for Law and Order. But in 1980 he wrote this novel, The Obsession, which has become very topical in the Yewtree age we now live in; given that it is about a Tory junior minister having an affair with a twelve-year-old girl.

Hobbie Kalmann is forty-two, a junior minister in the government, a man with considerable power and reputation. Afra is gifted, inquisitive, pretty and, as the twelve-year old lover of Hobbie Kalmann, the source of a tender and tragically relentless passion. Caught in an obsession that combines lust and innocence, Kalmann risks the collapse of his world for the one person who gives it meaning, Afra.

(from the blurb on the back of the 1980 paperback)

I must admit I read this because I wondered if Newman had managed to shed some pre-emptive light on the rumours that now dog the Tory government and indeed the establishment of the early '80s. Was this an attempt to uncover what was rotten and bring it to the public's mind in the same way he had so successfully unmasked police corruption in both Sir, You Bastard and Law and Order? Well, no sadly if that was ever Newman's intention, he doesn't really pull it off here. The Obsession doesn't discuss a secret network of paedophiles in the upper echelons of British society, instead it concentrates solely on Kalmann and presents him as a minority who genuinely believes he is in love with Afra.

Unfortunately this is where The Obsession gets a bit...well, icky and uncomfortable. Newman's descriptions are rather worryingly voyeuristic and there's something to be said in the notion that the way he approaches the relationship is somehow appeasing paedophiles. It is Afra who is shown to make the first move, time and time again, and Kalmann who submits after some internal conflict and resistance. Despite this sexual impulse, Afra is written as a very naive twelve year old, at odds with Kalmann's assertions that she is mature for her age. She is always depicted as being very childish in the scenes which Newman allows her to be apart from Kalmann which poses an interesting complexity and the notion on people believing what they want to believe to indulge in their heart's desires. Kalmann is an unsympathetic character, but the manner in which Newman approaches his crimes almost seems like he's trying to gain some sympathy.

Equally icky is Newman's characterisation of Afra's friend Eugenia, who indulges in incestuous sex games with her brothers as if it were the norm. Call me prudish, but this was a real eye-opener for me and not what I'd personally consider normal. Again, there's a danger here that the impulses paedophiles have could be considered justified from this text, rather than condemned.

But before you give up hope, Newman manages to introduce Eugenia into Kalmann and Afra's secret weekends and, tapping into Kalmann's thoughts, Newman reveals that he begins to harbour feelings of lust for Eugenia too which blows away any of his repeated beliefs that he is not a paedophile and that he is simply someone who has fallen for a twelve-year old girl. Without giving anything away, the weekend is a tragic disaster and comeuppances are delivered, though even then one gets a sense that neither Kalmann or Afra have learnt anything from the experience.

An interesting, bold read, but not without its flaws. Apropos of nothing, I kept seeing/hearing Kalmann as David Cameron - not that he's a peado of course...

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