Across the Pond

Across the Pond

Two nations divided by a single language – was Churchill’s great comment on the relationship between England and America. They are two countries that are so different in many ways.

 

 Andrew O’Hagan grew up on the Ayrshire coast and so knew the sound of the Atlantic ocean. He was captivated by the stories about the pursuit of happiness that the ocean offered.

Many have made the journey including O’Hagan’s great-grandfather, a Glasgow fishmonger,  who migrated to New York in 1923.  The young O’Hagan vaulted across the ocean in his dreams. America was still for him, as F Scott Fitzgerald called it, a land commensurate with our capacity for wonder. This book is a collection of essays that explore his fascination with America and its relationship with the UK. Readable – wise – sometimes outspoken – they always leave a spark of interest for the reader!

His essays deplore America’s  foreign policy and its  poisoning of our culture. It all began, O’Hagan argues  when Margaret Thatcher, pandering to Reagan’s America, announced that there was no such thing as society.

In the absence of community, people have turned to other interests. We may be indifferent to whoever happens to be governing us, but we race to spend 54p a minute voting for a pop idol or evicting a scapegoat from the Big Brother house. To shop and to holiday in exotic locations have become the only democratic rights that matter.

In a survey of celebrity memoirs, O’Hagan argues that the screens on which we watch the world have become mirrors showing us our own implausibly glamorised faces. The tabloids are responsible for an infatuation with talentless show-offs like Katie and Peter who are emblems of spendthrift narcissism.

‘Hagan’s observations of America are acidly satirical, but he broods over polluted, corrupted Britain with a more painfully tender sense of what we have lost or negligently discarded. The Atlantic Ocean, despite its maritime title, is a pastoral elegy, a lament for a country that in aping America has pulled itself up by the roots. Other essays inspect the effects that our consumerism upon us all.

O’Hagan is a novelist who demonstrates that fiction can compel us to redefine reality. 

Lies dribble from the slack mouths of politicians- where do we turn for truth? To the Bishops? To the Media? To the Newspapers? No to the Novelists!  This is powerful stuff and we neglect O’Hagans warnings at our peril……. sobering stuff.

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