(Roger Phillips’ cover for the 1972 edition)
“[Lens] Rossman’s narrative is both single-minded and rambling, a tangle of facts and fantasies, distorted sexuality, obscured dates, anti-feminism, glorified brutality and narcissism” (153).
Adrian Mitchell’s sole SF novel The Bodyguard (1970) is a perverse romp through a diseased England viewed through the eyes of an equally diseased narrator. Lens Rossman’s deathbed ramblings of his “adventures” and “training” as a B.G. (bodyguard) in his fight against “The Rot” spread by leftist subverts, is, as the “editor” of the narrative indicates in a hilarious afterword, “a tangle of facts and fantasies” and “glorified brutality” (153). Mitchell presents Rossman’s account as a ghastly artifact of a pre-revolutionary era while simultaneously suggesting that the excess seeping from every page is compounded by the effects of drugs and careful editing. Regardless, Rossman’s verbal vomitus, ranging from descriptions of his member, “pulsing desperately like an outwitted Houdini” (68), to a profound lack of concern about white South African exiles creating a “New Johannesburg” in the Surrey countryside replete with zoos filled with “black South Africans of various shapes and sizes” (114) presents a distillation of the real “The Rot” afflicting England.
At this moment in a review, one paragraph after an introduction promising some level of structural invention and narrative chaos, a question might interrupt whatever the reviewer might be saying—has The Bodyguard been unjustly forgotten? I suggest a tepid yes. Viewing a dystopic whirlwind through the eyes of one of the causes of the dystopic whirlwind is a fascinating proposition. It certainly will not appeal to all readers. Most will tire of Rossman’s “tangle of facts and fantasies” (153) and pine for a hero to fix it all.
“Describe yourself in more detail” (6).
Before Lens Rossman was a bodyguard he was a member of the European Riot Police–“but everyone calls them the Yellows” (8) (the cover image). In one of the more hilarious moments of the novel, he describes how the color was “chosen by a panel of neurologists, advertisers and witch-doctors who pondered its association with pus, with vomit, with mustard gas” (10). Rossman’s England is an England where “every daffodil in the country became an advertisement for fear” (11). The Yellows crack down on “The Rot which threatens Britain and the civilized world” (1). According to Rossman, “The Rot” is a nebulously defined group of leftist collectives infiltrating and destroying a nebulously defined conception of England: “I knew plenty about the Subvert Movement, The Rot. Subverts came in all shapes and sizes, some were merely eccentric, but some were genuinely anti-State” (20). Rossman’s not the type to reflect on society with much clarity as he is not only a walking pustulant symptom but a rat king conglomeration spreading the diseases of society. After a successful (and ridiculous) stint as an undercover Yellow in Oxford he joins the Hollow Hill training school for bodyguards.
Our cartoonish bodyguard spends his time railing against the “anti-bulk prejudice” he’s experienced–“sometimes I feel as I go through life sporting a T-shirt marked PHYSICAL BULK” (13)–and describing his libido that requires detailed technological fantasies to arouse: “this involved clearing Josie right out of my brain, easy enough, and then introducing Technicolor nude images from a Channel 13 comedy series about a nudist colony together with a soundtrack stolen from an old Maupassant story I read about a Frenchman who questions a chambermaid about his mistress […]” (17) — you get the idea. Rossman has no ability to investigate or appraise and seldom appears to be much of a bodyguard at all–while guarding a New Naturalist nudist colony he seems utterly unaware that they too are members of “The Rot.” In another instance, he guards the New Johannesburg colony of virulent racists who spend their time conducting Mengele-esque experiments on “subverts” but at no moment reflects on their conduct.
Rossman’s story, preserved as an artifact of the pre-revolutionary past, is difficult to stomach. Mitchell’s satire–the “I cannot forget what I saw in Meet the Feebles (1989)” sort–never seems to settle on a core “idea.” The interjections and afterword of the deathbed interrogator do not have the impact of Norman Spinrad’s far more successful satire (with altogether different aims) The Iron Dream (1972). It’s hard to disentangle the effect of both novels–a squeamish and unpleasant aura more fascinating to talk about than to read.
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10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bodyguard, Adrian Mitchell (1970)”
Looks like Elton John has a side gig with the riot police.
Yeah, the glasses…. The novel is just as ridiculous as that image.
Gosh! Is this the poet Adrian Mitchell? I had no idea he’s written anything like this. I think his poetry is excellent but it sounds like his prose may not have been so successful.
Yes, he’s the poet! The prose itself had a few beautiful moments but…. I still enjoyed the book!
Yeah, I’d known him as primarily a poet, particularly his (best known?) ‘Tell Me Lies About Vietnam’. I like the way the novel seems to reflect upon a common belief of many leftists in the late 60s/early 70s – that a more heavily policed reaction to the social upheavals of the time, particularly a more “technologically advanced” version of policing, was coming or already on its way. Now we’re living the dream…
The humorous thing about the novel that although there is more policing the policing itself is so inept and oblivious to the problems of the world that a revolution will happen anyway…. Yes, the world is more policed but real change will still occur. I should point out, the nature of change revealed at the end is entirely nebulous — is the new state just as repressive? was there really a leftist “revolution”? The main narrator is so obvious to everything that the “real” state of the world seems so out of reach.
I just got around to reading this, my 100th book of the year, and though the writing was uneven in spots– yes, lyrical at times— it was enjoyable as a farce.
I note at the back of the book was a list of other titles and thought Monique Wittig’s Les Guerilleres would be of interest to you. Free version is available at:
Click to access wittig_guerilleres.pdf
I reread my review of The Bodyguard and definitely remember how farcical it was — I enjoyed it despite its faults (as hopefully my review made clear).
Thank you for the recommendation — and the link.
Have you read Wittig’s novel? I’ve had it on a “to acquire” list for a while but it isn’t a cheap book. I tend to enjoy paper copies more than online ones… so I’ll still try to find a paper copy.
Yes, I blazed through the 89 pages of the ebook yesterday. I really didn’t like it for any reason other than it wasn’t much of a story. It was about women’s liberation, and my perception was contradictory in that it seemed heavy handed while simultaneously subtle. Anyway, you may like it since you’re more inclined to be objective, analytical and enjoyed Suzy Charnas.
I, too, prefer paper, but sometimes I will take a free ebook as a way of reconnaissance, especially when the book is rare & pricey. That happened to me with Wolfe’s Limbo, and then I bought two paper copies for about $5 total.
One other book I’ve recently read & enjoyed, that I thought would appeal to you, is Adolfo Bioy Cacares’ The Invention of Morel. The cropped black & white picture of Louise Brooks caught my attention.
I am definitely not objective!
I’ve read The Invention of Morel — it’s absolutely fantastic.