The Sin Crowd Essay, Research Paper
The sin crowd Fierce People by Dirk Wittenborn 335pp, Bloomsbury If all the American novels with blurbs that compared them to The Great Gatsby were laid end to end, how long would the line stretch? I was wondering this while trying to detach Dirk Wittenborn’s book from its PR, which also describes it as “a whacked-out hybrid of Dickens and Salinger”. What a terrible construction this is, and how unilluminating about a novel which shares little with the latter’s masterpiece other than the fact that the protagonist is a 16-year-old boy. It takes Finn Earl 300 pages to gain one tenth of Holden Caulfield’s understanding of the truths behind America’s Rembrandt grin, and then only because the rich set he falls in with try to appease their ennui by hunting him down like a dog. It would have been much more interesting if his sense of moral repugnance for the values of this privileged class had predated his discovery that some of them were trying to kill him. As good a storyteller as he is, you feel that Wittenborn isn’t quite confident that his portrayal of the casual brutishness of his wealthy subjects will be vivid enough to outweigh their many attractions. He is better at detailing the reasons why Finn and his mother are initially seduced by the inhabitants of the exclusive community of Vlyvalle than he is at explaining why they leave it with an unpleasant taste in their mouths. Liz Earl’s desire to be accepted as an equal by the friends and neighbours of her employer and patron, Mr Osborne, seems no less sensible then her son’s designs on the billionaire’s granddaughter. Wittenborn is not unduly stretched by the challenge of outlining the appeal of a teenage virgin heiress. Everything about Maya and Finn’s relationship is plausible, other than the vague disquiet he reports every 10 pages or so. The moment near the end, when Maya casts her lover aside rather than face the truth about her family, has been pre-empted by little more than her admittedly annoying habit of driving her Land Rover over the Earls’ front lawn. If this is the best Wittenborn can do, it’s no wonder he was forced to take extreme measures. When Finn is attacked one evening on his way to Maya’s, we begin to realise that people who have never experienced what it is to have a whim thwarted don’t live by the same rules as the rest of us. From then on, it’s all plot, plot, plot as the thin veneer of civilisation that separates the inhabitants of Vlyvalle from the primitive tribe studied by Finn’s anthropologist dad is stripped away to reveal – aha! – a hideous likeness. “Keep away from the fierce people,” Osborne tells Finn, and we are unsure whether he means the amoral yobs in the jungles of South America or the ones in the golf club bar. It’s a neat conceit, but I wish Wittenborn had relied a little less heavily on this kind of neon signposting. A better writer would convey the dark heart of his characters without having to make them refugees from The Last Days of Sodom .