A limping man, a country with no name and a convoluted story of muddled idealism, naked ambition and pragmatism emerge from the pages of a brilliant new novel by Christopher Hope, called Shooting Angels.
I first came across Christopher Hope when he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1992. That book was Serenity House, I loved that so much that I have continued to read other novels as I have come across them, My Chocolate Redeemer and Kruger’s Alp being among my favourites.
Imagine my surprise therefore, when I found we were staying in his house in France last summer. My generous and beautiful sons decided to take their mother away for a holiday. They planned and arranged everything and we ended up is the most blissful house you can possibly imagine in the South of France. Off the beaten track, exquisite views, surrounded by wonderful countryside and everything a hunter gatherer could wish for by way of supplies – trees literally dripping with ripe figs, grapes, mushrooms, tomatoes and wonderful weather.
Christopher met us at the house, his partner being away, and was the most gracious, he came back to check on us and we offered him breakfast and it was then that I discovered, to my delight, who we were with.
Shooting Angels is a double-entendre, Joe Angel is one of the main characters in the novel whose childhood heroes include Al Capone and John Calvin. As a young boarder at a brutal school he meets Charlie Croker, and they become close friends: “two sides of the same coin”. After a particularly brutal incident involving Joe, one in which no one has given away the perpetrator Croker is given a camera by one of the Brothers, Father Daintry.
“Just point and shoot. Look on, Croker, and say nothing…Truth is stranger than trickery. The world… is not just queerer than we know, it is queerer than we can ever know.”
So Croker becomes a photographer – but he is also the subject of another’s scrutiny. Why, we will never know exactly but just as he records the activities of those around him, so he is being watched and recorded himself.
This is a brilliant study of friendship, of a country convulsed by political change and the route that one might take to stay on one’s feet, or not as the case may be. When we first meet Charlie he is hiding in the back of beyond. By the last page we have understood why.