I always enjoy the literary ‘Ten of the Best’ column in the Review section of the Guardian newspaper on Saturday, which is this week devoted to Journalists in the novel. One invariably comes across some old favourites – in this case, Henrietta Stackpole from Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, a text I’ve shamefully not re-read since undergraduate days – and discovers some intriguing new works that one at once adds to an already long ‘to read’ list. Part of the fun is that there will always be letters the following Saturday saying: why on earth didn’t you include X, Y or Z, as blindingly obvious examples of last week’s topic? - and I’ve even contributed to that particular epistolary genre myself on occasion.
This week I’m inclined to write in again saying: why didn’t you include that important trope in some recent utopian writing of having a well-travelled but also hard-boiled and deeply cynical journalist as the visitor to utopia, as with Will Farnaby in Aldous Huxley’s Island (1962) or William Weston of the Times-Post in Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (1975)? Such aggressively debunking investigators – men who, in Farnaby’s own phrase, ‘won’t take yes for an answer’ – are determined to test to destruction every positive assertion that utopia makes to them. So if the good new society can win even them over, as in complex ways in both books it does, then there is hope that consciousness more generally can be transformed in a socially benign direction.