Men in Black by John Harvey - review by Annette Kobak

Annette Kobak

Whole Societies are in Mourning for their Lives

Men in Black


Reaktion Books 280pp £19.95 order from our bookshop

It’s the claim of some books that they will change your life. Men in Black makes no such claim, yet it undoubtedly will if you read it. At its simplest – and the book’s apparently simple title proves to be the doorway to a brilliantly sustained, illuminating and subtle disquisition on the malaise of nineteenth- and twentieth-century English society – you will probably never put on a black garment again, man or woman, without resonating like a tuning-fork with the memory of what you have read. Even to those with keen awareness of dress codes, to put on a black anything will become a statement of previously unimaginable complexity.

As John Harvey warns, ‘Black matters are not clear cut’. Typically, black has been worn by the ‘basic cast of power-dressing: the priest, the prince, the merchant’, and signals mourning, power and money. That’s the simple bit, for its ramifications can spread from sinisterly prolonged mourning (Hamlet, Philip II of

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter