BBC Radio 4, 2-13 July 2012
Keith Mabbut is at a crossroads in life. In his mid-fifties, he has seen
a once-promising journalistic career decline into mediocrity, writing histories for business who tell him what to put down
for propagandist purposes. Suddenly an offer comes from his agent Silla to write the life of Hamish Melville, activist and
fighter for numerous causes across various nations. Melville is notoriously publicity-shy, but Mabbut rediscovers his journalistic
instincts and tracks the activist to India. There Mabbut becomes involved in a series of escapades, often putting his personal
safety at risk.
As I listened to Alex Jennings' reading of the novel, in which he showed his talent
for voices - Highland and Lowland Scots, Standard MP drawl, Iranian refugee and educated Hindi - I became more and more aware
that The Truth is not about a character called 'Keith Mabbut,' but rather concerns Palin himself. Ever since he made
Around the World in Eighty Days for the BBC, he appears to have had the wanderlust; the desire to visit
out-of-the-way places worldwide in the hope of discovering new and exciting experiences. This is precisely what drives Mabbut
to write Melville's life.
However there is an interesting irony here; the further Palin travels, and the more
he describes what he sees around him, the more we understand his subject position: his travel programmes tell us more about
Palin himself than the places he visits. The same also applies to The Truth; there is little attempt to analyse the
central character's state of mind, but plenty of description of what Mabbut witnesses in India - the people, the places, the
hustle and bustle. Many of these descriptions wouldn't look out of place in a Forster novel, proving beyond doubt that the
Passage to India mentality survives, even though it's six decades since India obtained independence.