Imogen De La Bere The Welcoming Committee

ISBN 13: 9780099440857

The Welcoming Committee

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9780099440857: The Welcoming Committee

A twentieth-century Faust, musician turned wine merchant, Crawford Hollander has done well from his deal with the devil. Successful, charming, surrounded by a circle of adoring women, he has cajoled, manipulated and cheated his way to riches. But Crawford has also accumulated enemies. On his return to his native New Zealand, three men are waiting for him. They have formed the Welcoming Committee, and have prepared a very special form of revenge-Crawford is the most complex and most magnificent of Imogen de la Bere's villains, and the novel through which he struts is her best yet - gripping, funny and deliciously tolerant of human frailty.

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Review:

There's a cat-like elegance about Imogen de la Bere's The Welcoming Committee. The prose is cool, detached and effortlessly sleek; while the plot of this tale of hubris and revenge is executed with icy precision.

Her Machiavellian protagonist is Crawford Hollander, a rich, successful, wine merchant from New Zealand who prides himself on his exquisite manners and taste. He has an upper-class English wife, Ginista, a young Kiwi muse/mistress, Mercy, a Lutyens house in Harpenden, a villa in Tuscany and a yacht in Greece. He's a man with "a nose for weakness" in others, an arch-manipulator who has never allowed his vision to be "blurred by such vaporous things as expressions of love or good intention". As a young boy, however, he had a dreamier romantic streak and longed to become a classical composer. Although he still toys with music (in a piece of potent symbolism, the book opens with Crawford storming out of "an offensively avant-garde production" of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust), "the much sweeter delights of making people make him money" proved more addictive. Some of those "people"--including his chief winemaker, Wolfgang Marks, the handyman Rawi Mann and former backer Dickie Fisher (Mercy's father)--are less than happy about how he has controlled and abused them (and others) over the years.

A rare visit by Crawford to his native country, ostensibly to attend Dickie's birthday party, provides them--the eponymous welcoming committee--with the perfect opportunity to even the score. His very public, humiliation is, of course, dextrously reserved until the last part of the novel, but De la Bere makes the journey to that, all too inevitable conclusion, as interesting as the final destination. Crawford is a monstrous villain but De la Bere is careful to imbue him with a few redeemable, or possibly understandably pitiable, characteristics. Her supporting cast (particularly the Commander, Crawford's drunken, parasitic brother-in-law and business partner) are morally complex, and while the familiar "bad, old world/ good, new world" geographical motif appears, there is a wonderful ambiguity to this compelling story. --Travis Elborough

Review:

"Hugely entertaining, de la Bere has a style that could strip paint at one hundred paces." ( Marie Claire)

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