Suspect foreigners and the spies who love them (and an author who writes of them both)
A savagely satirical new novel by Wellingtonian author Brannavan Gnanalingam asks how New Zealand security agencies
would respond when they really do think they have an Islamic terrorist to fear.
“Have we set up a surveillance society in which it's better to pretend we've got things right no matter what, than it is
to acknowledge when we've gone too far? We have given up a lot of our civil liberties in the name of protecting
ourselves from so-called Islamic terrorism, but who will police the police? In the words of Homer Simpson, do we simply
shrug and say "I dunno, the coastguard?"” says Gnanalingam.
Rachel McManus has just started at the New Zealand Alarm and Response Ministry. One of the few females working there,
she is forced to traverse the peculiarities of Wellington bureaucracy, lascivious colleagues, and decades of sedimented
hierarchy. She has the chance to prove herself by investigating a suspected terrorist, who they fear is radicalising
impressionable youth and may carry out an attack himself on the nation’s capital.
Gnanalingam says, "I have always been fascinated by the way banal and 'small' interactions between people can say so
much about contemporary 'grand' narratives. What if these problematic ideas are sustained, not by governments bashing
victims like in a tinpot dictatorship, but by ordinary folk through a clumsy insult at Friday night drinks or through
The title of the novel comes from the contents of a spy’s briefcase misplaced in the Aro Valley in 1981. Unfortunately
for the spy, the briefcase was discovered by the son of a prominent journalist. The novel transplants the farcical
nature of this famous Wellington spy story to examine a number of key contemporary issues: the War on Terror, xenophobia
and immigration, and structural sexism and Boys' Clubs.
Lawrence and Gibson editor Murdoch Stephens is effusive about the new novel. “While most spy agency novels zero in on
the spies, Bran’s takes shots at the agency. He has this inimitable ability to set a novel in a place that makes even an
insider feel like they’ve seen it in a way they’ve never thought of before. We’re really looking forward to the feedback
on this one…”
Gnanalingam’s previous novel Credit in the Straight World about a small-town finance company collapse drew comparisons with A Confederacy of Dunces and Charles Dickens, while his other books have examined Kiwis travelling in Paris and West Africa.
A Briefcase, Two Pies and a Penthouse will launch at 17 Tory St Open Source Gallery on Friday June 3, at 5.30pm, with music from Ruth Mundy and Vorn.