Thursday, 8 February 2001

Robert Rankin: East of Ealing (1984)

Edition: Sphere, 1988
Review number: 747

Rankin's first published writing was a play, Armageddon: The Musical, which later became a novel. In East of Ealing the third Brentford novel, much the same theme is taken up. When Jim Pooley finally pulls off a "Yankee accumulator" (a series of bets on six horses, the winnings from each put on the next), he becomes immensely rich, and his hand is stamped with a bar code which he can use to pay for goods instead of cash. But strange things are happening; as well as the number that goes with the barcode being "666", every building site in Brentford is taken over by computer firm Lateinos and Romiith, before a curtain of light separates Brentford from the rest of the world and inhabitants begin to be replaced by robot replicas.

East of Ealing is not as amusing as The Antipope or The Brentford Triangle; the Day of Judgment is perhaps a rather serious theme for treatment in this way. It does contain its fair share of ludicrous ideas, including one which has bizarrely been taken seriously by some evangelical Christians. That is, that the "mark of the Beast" referred to in Revelation (which it says will act as a license to buy and sell under the patronage of the Beast) is a computer bar code, stamped indelibly on the hand. The special number 666, which is stamped on Pooley's hand, supposedly allows unlimited credit. I think that this idea probably originates in East of Ealing, and as a serious proposal it is so silly that it is hardly worth arguing against.

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