Pro Bono Publico is a novel about the social and cultural decline of Britain from the post war period to the beginning of Thatcher’s reign. In particular, the overall liberal consensus of the time comes under attack as opposed to any one particular faction (they are but merely different colours of the same fence, the same rotten fence...). Here is a telling paragraph which sums up much of the root of the novel pretty well I think:
The novel traces this decline along with the rise in anti-social behaviour and erosion of respect - through the lives of fictional characters (some of which are based on real people) whose own lust for power spreads like a social disease. In a way to represent this change, a sub-plot of the novel explores a mysterious contagion affecting a group of trees which metaphorically decline along with the country at large.The deterioration in public behaviour had been caused by a naïve belief in the post-war political consensus that, because what had happened in Germany was wrong, the right way to govern a country was to renounce punitive sentencing and rely on the theory of rehabilitation to uphold the rule of law. The significance of this miscalculation was not lost on either the criminal fraternity or the legal profession, for the obvious consequence of such a policy was that criminality would flourish to the benefit of both.
One major factor of the novel is the narrative form it is written in. Being completely devoid of any dialogue throughout, the novel makes you feel like a helpless observer of such decline, it is as if you are looking through a glass at the action, this is as well done as it is well written.
It is gloomy subject matter of course, but I found myself nodding along to a lot of what was being said here, as well as enjoying the touches of irony and satire that is sprinkled throughout Pro Bono. The conclusion to the novel is also a smack across the face and perfectly done. It also made me think about the role the trade unions played at this time in British history as well as to reaffirm at lot of my thinking which I have arrived at through my own experiences.
I am sure there will be those who disagree with some points which the novel raises – even though it is hard to disagree with the factual representation delivered here and few could argue with Britain’s economic decline – but for those who do there will be many points to get you thinking.
In short, it is a novel I would highly recommend for anyone at all interested British politics, history or the question of social and cultural change. Thumbs up Emil.