Invective is the story of Ismael. Whilst studying medicine at university he discovers that he was adopted after his birth father carried out a suicide bombing. His Indian adoptive parents have brought him up with love and provided him with a thoughtful and rounded education but he yearns to find out more about his father, his Pakistani Muslim culture and whether he has inherited any of his father’s violent sense of adventure. As a result he embarks on a journey of discovery in which he combines befriending a local group he meets via a mosque with working for the British intelligence service
The word invective means “” and whenever the theme of a clash between Western and Islamic cultures is discussed now it always feels that harsh language is prevalent and offence will be both aimed and taken. It is difficult to consider such a nuanced and complex area without people trying to insist on forcing you on to one side or other of the black and white, dualistic public debate. But novels give us an opportunity to explore these issues from the perspectives of different characters and attempt to look past our own prejudiced lenses to gain empathy and understanding.
The really interesting aspect of the book is that Ismael is caught in the middle of these two competing philosophies, each of which is trying to convince him to their side. We see his internal struggle to understand both sides and which he should commit too, but we also see how both of these philosophies are full of contradiction. Muj, the group’s leader, is able to provide a very strong deconstruction of Western Civilisation exactly because there are so many flaws in it for him to draw upon, however, his leap to a violent, self-aggrandising solution highlights both his lack of a positive alternative and his own hypocrisy.
It is not hard to imagine though how someone could be swayed by a charismatic figure so clearly highlighting all that is wrong with the West, cross reference that with the actions of western governments and the rhetoric of the western media and consider themselves to be in a position of resisting violence, even more so for those who are actually living (and dying) on the end of the destruction caused by those governments. By the same token Western civilians, protected from the realities of wars in other regions by distance and home comforts, are similarly swayed by charismatic messages in their media. Hypocrisy and a lack of vision for a better alternative are as prevalent on either side that Ismael might turn to, and as both are clear that you are either for them or against them a thinking person can find themselves trapped in the middle.
The novel itself is fairly succinct and the narrative moves quickly so it does not require a huge investment of time on the reader’s part. The pages turn with a natural flow and Ismael himself is a very likeable, sympathetic character. Its impact, which is conversely substantial, is largely in the final of its four acts where the protagonist reflects on everything that has happened and starts to form his experiences into a philosophy. Both the process and its conclusions are useful in reflecting upon one’s own experience, prejudice, empathy and understanding of the world we find ourselves in. Given the scale of current events and the heat of the global debate it is a reflection we would all be wise to make.
70% of the sale of this novel will be donated to War Child, charity no. 1071659