In the wake of the Satanic Verses furore, Michael Carson’s second novel bravely weighs in with an incandescent satire of life in a contemporary Gulf oil state, not at all unlike Saudi Arabia. While Prophet and Koran escape direct mockery, Carson’s account the gilded brimstone world of nouveau orthodox Islam is scathing and, needless to say, unlikely to endear him to the zealots of the Rushdie-bashing brigade.
Coming up Roses is a splendid novel, threading a dexterous path between gentle and savage humour in the black tradition of Waugh’s Scoop and Updike’s The Coup. While the foibles of Arab and European expatriates in the mythical, oil fat kingdom of Ras al Surra are Carson’s special targets, he’s more broadly concerned with the dehumanising influence of militant religious orthodoxy and the sad comedy of modern consumerist alienation. By satirising his own culture as well as Arab Islam, with complex, sympathetic characters on both sides, he turns what could have been a racist novel into a sharp and cogent bi-cultural critique.
Carson’s first novel, Sucking Sherbet Lemons was a lovely, funny coming of age tale that explored a fat adolescent’s struggle to reconcile Catholicism and his own homosexuality (the latter wins). Coming up Roses is again about organised religion, seen both from ‘inside’ and from the doubly marginal viewpoint of gay