Surveillance (Hardcover)

By Jonathan Raban

Pantheon, 9780375422447, 272pp.

Publication Date: January 30, 2007



In the not-too-distant future, national identity cards are mandatory, and America has become obsessed with intelligence-gathering. The government’s scrutiny is omnipresent, civilians freely indulge their curiosity on the Internet, journalists pursue their investigations with relentless determination, and children both snoop on their parents and manipulate new technologies.

In Seattle, the unfulfilled actor Tad Zachary now performs mostly in the Department of Homeland Security’s fictional disaster scenarios, while his friend and neighbor Lucy Bengstrom struggles to support her eleven-year-old daughter, Alida, on a freelance journalist’s meager income–with their landlord providing additional threats. Then Lucy is assigned to write a profile of August Vanags, a retired professor turned best-selling author with his memoir of a childhood ravaged by World War II, but the validity of his account grows questionable, even as Lucy and Alida are charmed by both Vanags and his lonesome wife.

Everyone here is under surveillance or conducting it, and at risk of confusing what might be true for what actually is–a distinction not easily honored in a time of personal stress and widespread panic, when terrorist attack and literary fraud lurk around every corner. With precision and compassion, Jonathan Raban captures not only a peculiar period in our ongoing history but also a rich variety of lives caught up in fault lines that reach throughout society.

Praise For Surveillance

“When the going gets tough, the tough get nosy. And so, in this well-realized novel, does everyone else . . . A coolly delivered portrait of the Wired Age, when paranoia rules and truth is at a premium.”
Kirkus Reviews

“An air of suspenseful dread hangs over every page of this intelligent, provocative book, and when the end finally rolls in, readers will be stunned and, in some cases, outraged.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Surveillance is arguably the finest, most human, most chilling novel to have emerged in response to these desperate times.”
–Martyn Bedford, Literary Review

“Of all the 9/11 books so far, Surveillance is perhaps the most disturbing because it offers scant comfort and no certainties.”
–Ian Sansom, The Spectator

“Post 9/11, everyone watches and is being watched . . . In Raban’s black and brilliant portrait of his adopted city, all kinds of sinister forces filter and manipulate the truth. A wonderfully ironic, disturbing take on the un-privacy of modern life.”
–Kate Saunders, The Times (London)

“Raban is deadly serious in his portrayal of a country running scared, but he also has a taste for sly social comedy: His ear for idiom is well-nigh faultless, be it the ironic locutions of Seattle school kids or the braying tones of a haughty Englishwoman, and his character-sketching is precise and assured.”
–Anthony Quinn, The Daily Telegraph

Surveillance is never less than absorbing in its treatment of people attempting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness according to their very different lights..”
–Sean O’Brien, The Times Literary Supplement

“One of the best attempts so far to engage with the post—9/11 world . . . Having devoted his career mainly to nonfiction, Raban is becoming one of our most insightful novelists.”
–William Skidelsky, New Statesman

“If someone were to come along and tell me I had half an hour to put together a 2006 time capsule, Jonathan Raban’s new novel is the first thing I’d grab . . . Nothing else would come as close to distilling the particular attitudes and anxieties of our time as Surveillance.”
–Toby Litt, The Guardian