Book of the Week

War Of The Encyclopaedists by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Covite. Photo: PA Photo/Hamish Hamilton
War Of The Encyclopaedists by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Covite. Photo: PA Photo/Hamish Hamilton

War Of The Encyclopaedists by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Covite.

This novel, written by two men, tells the story of two best friends, Hal and Mickey, and the ‘war’ is the first Iraq conflict of 2004.

Hal and Mickey are founders of the Encyclopaedists of Capital Hill, a tongue-in-cheek arts collective which puts on pop-up exhibitions largely as a means of picking up women. Their cosy boho slacker lifestyle is disrupted when, instead of moving to Boston together to college as planned, Mickey’s National Guard unit is called to serve in Iraq.

The narrative then splits in two, with despatches from Iraq - the most powerful sections, detailing the compromises and cruelties of life as an agent of the occupation in the beleaguered Green Zone - alternating with scenes of Hal failing to get on at college, and gradually dropping out. While Hal is struggling with literary theory and grad envy, his pal is witnessing comrades being blown up.

There are girls in all this too, notably the free-spirited Mani, who makes up a triangle of sorts with the pair, the development of which provides some momentum for the plot. Hal and Mickey also take it in turns to update a Wikipedia page about their lives as a way of extending their arts project.

All in all, this is an easy and often compelling read, if at times it feels a little meandering and lacking in narrative drive and balance. I could have done without the Wikipedia pages though - cryptic, ponderous and oddly infrequent, these inserts promise innovation but deliver only obfuscation.