Two Tribes by Chris Beckett


In this time of heightened everything, how our disagreements will be viewed those who follow us is the last thing on the mind of those who hate-tweet their every thought. The Brexit debate, which continues to rumble on, is one of those seminal moments in our recent history where those in the future will undoubtedly look at us and wonder “what on earth was going on?” This is the premise of Chris Beckett’s latest work, Two Tribes.

23rd-century historian Zoe, a Level 3 Associate of the Guiding Body no less, has stumbled upon a fascinating treasure trove. She has managed to find a surviving set of diaries from the early 21st century, 2016 to be precise, that she is able to link to not only to the people who wrote them but to their social media archives and the brief interaction they had. Zoe decides to investigate the lives of Harry and Michelle, a remainer and a leaver respectively, to try and understand how, on the eve of the ‘Catastrophe’, why everyone was so distracted.

Harry is an architect who mostly takes care of the extension requests of his London neighbours. Michelle is a hairdresser in Essex whose paths cross after Harry’s car dies and he grabs a last-minute AirBnB at Michelle’s while he waits for the repair. Both have suffered loss and failed relationships. They see much in each other as they put the world to rights over a bottle of wine. One thing leads to another and all is well, until the morning after when Michelle makes a comment about Polish builders. This crashes something inside Harry and Michelle is upset that it bothers him.

It is a simple premise, a clash of worlds, except it is ours written large on the page. As Zoe delves into the months of Harry and Michelle’s romance, we see the greater powers at work for both sides of the argument duke it out, with Twitter and Facebook being the battlegrounds. We glimpse Zoe’s London, one ravaged by climate upheaval and war, we see an enforced class structure by the Guiding Body and we see the equally rigid one played out in 2016. From cocktail parties to the pub, Zoe looks on in amazement from her ruined London, as the one two centuries prior pulls itself apart existentially.

This is the sort of setting in which Beckett excels. Taking the present, wrapping it with a science fiction sheen and playing back our most uncomfortable elements to us. Two Tribes feels like a natural extension of his stunning America City (read my review here), which in itself feels more and more precedent. The power of ‘the nudge’ that he explored in that novel, is shown on the receiving end in Two Tribes, with those in power playing those below them for their own means. In the end, is it us who really makes our own decisions?

I am a huge fan of Chris Beckett’s work. His books are always challenging and he is not afraid to populate them with unsympathetic characters. In Two Tribes, I don’t think I was ‘rooting’ for anyone, but in each line, I saw the many, many possible sources of inspiration I know, myself included. Holding a mirror up is never a pleasant experience when you truly look at the reflection.

Two Tribes is Chris Beckett on unflinching and uncompromising form and shows us whatever we are, to whichever Tribe we subscribe too, there are bigger things lurking in our future we are conveniently choosing to ignore.

Two Tribes by Chris Beckett is out now from Corvus and is RRP £16.99.

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