Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thompson

7/10 Thompson's fascinating vision of a utopian/dystopian UK is delivered in a decidedly twee manner.

Thompson's fascinating vision of a utopian/dystopian UK is delivered in a decidedly twee manner.

An eight-year-old boy is removed from his home and family in the middle of the night and he soon learns that he is the victim of an extraordinary experiment. In an attempt to reform society, the government has divided the population into four groups, each representing a different personality type. The land, too, has been divided into quarters. Borders have been established, reinforced by concrete walls, armed guards and rolls of razor wire.

British novelist Rupert Thomson has been compared to Charles Dickens, Mervyn Peake and JG Ballard. His novels include the acclaimed Death of a Murderer and The Book of Revelation. In 2005 his seventh novel, the picaresque Divided Kingdom, was published.

The strengths of Thompson's Divided Kingdom lie in its intriguing concept and its skilfully-written narrative. It is a book that encourages you to think about the nature of racism and on how cultures define themselves whilst cleverly never declaring whether its alternate history is utopian or dystopian. The division of the UK into four quarters is an undeniably fascinating and novel concept: The Red Quarter is inhabited by the sanguine (cheerful and optimistic), the Yellow Quarter by the where the choleric (bad-tempered and irritable), the Blue Quarter by the phlegmatic (stolid and calm), and the Green Quarter by the melancholic (sad and depressed).

Unfortunately the Divided Kingdom fails to make the implausible plausible, the unbelievable believable, as a book of this type really must if it is to provide compelling to the reader. There is also a lack in engagement, partly due to a narrative that loses impetus as it progresses, and also due to a lack of tension caused by a seemingly invincible protagonist that is always going to survive anything thrown against him.

Rupert Thompson's Divided Kingdom is a good book that would likely benefit from repeated reading. The author's brilliant concept - which provided such promise - was never fully realised though and the reader may ultimately be left thoughtful, yet unsatisfied.

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