Chris Carver was a member of a radical leftwing group in London in the late 60s to early 70s. He fled the country and eventually returned to England under the assumed name of Michael Frame. Now married and with an adopted daughter, his life begins to fall apart when he sees a member of his old cell in a small town in France.
In the world of My Revolutions, Carver became radicalized primarily as an act of rebellion against his emotionally abusive father. Carver doesn’t have a coherent world-view; his opposition to the government seems not to be based on more than the fact that he was arrested at a demonstration in front of the US embassy, a demonstration that he attended for no particular reason other than it seemed the right thing to do, in some vague sort of way. Reading this novel, you would not get the sense that there were any good reasons for the massive protests that swept Europe, the UK, and the US in the late 60s. You would come away with the idea that terrorists are small groups of disaffected youths, controlled perhaps from Moscow or by the PLO. You would certainly never ask whether the state was simultaneously conducting terrorism on a massive scale, involving the loss of thousands of civilian lives. That is not the story that Kunzru wanted to tell.
So let’s look at whether Kunzru succeeded in telling his favored story.
The Carver/Frame character is seen at 3 stages of his life: the young expelled student leftist; the drug-addicted young man on the run in Asia; and the middleaged married man whose past is hidden from his wife and adopted daughter. Surely there is enough here for Kunzru to give us a clear sense of the character. But Carver remains a cipher. There is a vagueness and elusiveness to Carver’s character that goes beyond the character himself. It is as though Kunzru hasn’t decided who the character is. For example, we see Frame spending time at the bookstore where he works, hidden behind a desk and a pile of books, drinking scotch in the middle of the night. We can take this as a kind of back-sliding and a preparation for escape, but we never really get any sense of Frame’s desperation. During his radical years we see only a young man lusting after another cell member, Anna Addison, but never quite get whether she is the reason he remains or does he actually share in the goals of the organization.
Maybe that was the point: human motivations are seldom as clear-cut as we like to make out. In retrospect we justify our actions based on the idea that we followed clear ideas and goals, but in fact we are a mass of conflicting or unrelated desires and the choices we make are based more on character and convenience than on rational pursuit of objectives.