Ed O’Loughlin has worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa and the Middle East for many years. In his remarkable debut novel, Not Untrue and Not Unkind, he brutally puts paid to any prestige associated with filing copy from the frontline. His protagonist, Owen Simmons, is a deskbound editor in an anonymous estuary town whose memories are haunted by private failings and public horrors in Central Africa in the late Nineties. In a series of flashbacks, we follow him and a wayward tribe of freelancers, wire-men and ‘lens-monkeys’ as they chase stories from Johannesburg to Goma, Kinshasa and Freetown, reckless and relentless in their urge to escape both from distant families and from atrocities they are not paid to empathise with. Finding the words that will make the news seem new is a laborious responsibility, ‘having to sit alone for hours in a badly lit room, picking scabs off your brain’. There’s little consolation to be had from copious booze and the occasional fumble in the jungle.
This is a cleverly crafted novel that belies the vast mess it represents with lyrical prose and bittersweet comic detail. Despite its geographical spread and its brilliant, uncanny proliferation of personal and political narratives, it moves towards a tragic climax with the taut precision of a thriller: the