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The two books, call them Descent and Rising , have an odd, uneasy relationship with each other. On the one hand, the excerpts from Rising serve to call attention to the more generous style and conception, the nuanced inconclusiveness of Descent ; at the same time Descent shares with Rising all its essential generic features: In this new persona, Meek races the reader through Afghanistan, London, Dumfries, New York and the resort island of Chincoteague in Virginia, to an inconclusive but foreboding ending set a few miles from Basra, during the Iraq invasion of March True to its thriller form, the book is, as I found to my cost close to 4 a.

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek

Meek is a terrific describer: The hugely varied physical topography and domestic interiors of We Are Now Beginning Our Descent have the glistening, hard-edged particularity of a world seen in the light of a moderate hangover, which is nicely appropriate, for Adam Kellas and hangovers are on familiar terms. The novel begins on home turf for Meek who reported for the Guardian from Afghanistan and Iraq , in the tribal life of journalists, hunkered down in a compound as bare of comforts as a s boarding school, amid a tangle of cables plugged into the unreliable electricity supply, from where, via satellite phone and laptop, they leap across time zones to meet their deadlines in Europe and the US.

She shows Kellas a vastly enlarged detail from one of these shots:. There could have been a black vertical a few pixels high, and a horizontal. The beige point could have been a face. There could have been a Taliban fighter there, standing up from under his rock, deaf, exultant and choking from the bombs, opening his arms out wide and yelling to America that he was not martyred yet. It requires something like the magnification power of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope to bring the war into sufficient focus for it to take on a personal dimension — a thought repeated again and again through the book.

In such a fast-receding world, the intense, animal connection of sex becomes ever more precious, and We Are Now Beginning Our Descent soon turns into a sexual quest with strong mythological overtones.

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The pair meet by starlight. To the precise, numeric calculation of that distance, Kellas and his author are attentive to the point of obsession. From this height, it was easier to place King Arthur in the mist lapping at the Welsh marches, and Titania and Oberon bowered by those fluffy copses, than to populate the market towns with the real millions, one by one.

Otherwise what could the eye see as it looked down on a strange land from so high, except history instead of yesterday, prophecy instead of tomorrow, and a today that was either a view, or a target.

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First they blow out a tree stump, then they crank up the cannon for a long shot. The binoculars tell a different story: It would seem that — assuming a likely magnification of x7 — the basic humanity of strangers asserts itself at yards. Back in Britain for a few hours, he goes to a dinner party in Camden Town, where Meek demonstrates that the diagonal length of a dining table affords ample distance for warfare.

In this episode, as elsewhere, the novelist writes a contract with the reader that is strongly biased in favour of the first party.

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For his part, the reader agrees to accept, without prior notice, sudden, improbable events and behaviours otherwise known as Acts of Novelist , along with bursts of conversation rarely, if ever, met outside opera librettos, dreams and translated Russian novels. Here, the story bowls along at speed in a style of informal, talky naturalism, then periodically erupts into weirdness as Meek tries to load his narrative vehicle with a larger cargo than its frame can comfortably bear.

On a minibus full of reporters, Kellas says to Astrid:. He is a correspondent in Afghanistan, who dreams of writing a bestseller. Through Kellas, Meek finds a complex perspective on the ego and frustrations of the frontline journalist. He kicks off with an extract from the novel that Kellas is writing while working in Kabul.

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent

It is tale told from the point of view of a young woman in Esfahan in Iran. An American invasion is under way: The stopping and starting of their trucks. Move the fucking trucks forward! Any raghead bitch gets in the way, fucking light her up!


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This novel, full of every cliche he can find, is just one of the lies about war that Kellas tells himself. He concocts others every day in trying to square the black-and-white expectations of his editors in London with the nuanced realities of what he sees in Afghanistan. Words, he comes to believe, are not up to the task of conveying the truth at all.

At a dinner party back home in Camden Town, Kellas delivers a seductive broadside against the stay-at-home army of liberal commentators who share the table: