Michael Palin - The Truth
Worthy but not heavy-handed novel exploring corporate greed and environmental ethics
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
It’s hard to read Michael Palin’s second novel The Truth, without the author’s voice creeping into your head. The calm, slightly amused but earnest tone that accompanies his many popular travel series is maintained throughout this book too. And though it’s not exactly a ripping yarn, there’s plenty to like in this tale of globalisation, corporate greed and environmental ethics.
Keith Mabbut is 56 years old and a failed environmental journalist who, out of the blue, is asked to write a book about a notoriously elusive green campaigner called Hamish Melville. It’s made clear from the beginning that the project will turn Mabbut’s ailing career around, but as revelations about Melville oscillate from the saintly to the sinister, ‘the truth’ eludes Mabbut until the very last pages.
Python fans beware: there are very few bellylaughs or guffaws to be had here. Instead, Palin spins a web of duplicity that forces Mabbut to sharpen his dulled journalistic skills and whittle away to uncover the real story. It’s worthy but not heavy-handed, meting out criticism to exploitative multinationals and questioning the trade-off between industrial growth and conservationism.
But, while Mabbut is a likeable main character, he’s just a bit too dull. The pace of the story is also held back by some stilted dialogue and a few unnecessary sub-plots. Still, Palin’s talent for painting rich geographical details is impressive. He brings The Truth’s many settings – from Sumburgh in Shetland to Bhubaneswar in India – to life in an accessible and unexotic way. And though the story is slow to pick up momentum, it gently crescendos into the happy, satisfying ending we’re promised at the start.