On Surveillance

Having finished my own work of non fiction, I've been greedilyconsuming as much fiction as I can get my hands on. First up was Surveillance, Jonathan Raban's apocalyptic novel set in contemporary Seattle.

I saw Raban speak about Surveillance in the Berkeley Cody's in mid February. I was disappointed with what I thought was his dramatically pessimistic critique of the information economy. The government was all-seeing and all-knowing, he indicated -- but failed to concretely explain what and who it saw or knew.

Like his vision of the contemporary world, Raban's Surveillance is a dark, depressing novel. The problem is the absence of surveillance in the narrative. Nobody is really watching anybody else. The novel is a comedy of (bad) manners rather than a dose of digital Orwellianism. The people who inhabit Raban's Surveillance are neither good watchers nor characters who demanded to be watched.

At the ending of the novel, Seattle is hit by a massive earthquake which literally swallows up the city. But why have a biblical style earthquake conclude a book about surveillance? Is Raban suggesting that we are being watched by more than just the government? Or was it simply that Raban himself lost the thread of Surveillance and killed the book so that he wouldn't have to watch it anymore?