The Catastrophist is a brilliant, highly acclaimed novel of love, passion, violence, and desire, set in the Belgian Congo in 1959. While expatriates loll about their pools in a colonial paradise soon to erupt into chaos, huge crowds are drawn to the charismatic Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba -- and his even more dangerous rivals.
One man sees the cracks appearing around him and struggles to hold on to his lover, his sanity, and ultimately, his life. Gillespie, the outsider, a journalist, is in Léopoldville for the beautiful Italian, Inés. He is desperate for her love, while she is obsessed with the unfolding drama, caught up in history, ideology, hero worship.
In a world slipping out of control, gripped by disgust, fear, and incomprehension, Gillespie feels that events threaten to overwhelm him -- as does his friendship with the amiable but sinister American, Stipe; his relationship with his canny native driver, Auguste; and, above all, his love for Inès.
It is Inès who defines Gillespie as a catastrofista, an Italian word for somebody for whom "no problem is small. Nothing can be fixed; it is always the end," for Gillespie is deeply pessimistic and skeptical about their relationship as well as politics, while Inès believes in engagement and commitment, whatever the risks -- which, as it turns out, are greater than either of them can foresee.
As colonial corruption and injustice give way to turmoil, brutality, and murder, Gillespie is finally forced to confront what is happening before his eyes. In subtle, haunting prose, Ronan Bennett captures the complex connection between the personal and the political, between cruelty and lust, between eroticism and love, between courage and fear, between detachment and involvement.
The Catastrophist is a bold, courageous novel, at once a searing love story and a terrifying political thriller, in the tradition of such books as Graham Greene's The Comedians or such postcolonial classics as The Year of Living Dangerously -- an erotic Heart of Darkness for the twentieth century.