One of Us

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Melissa Benn, Chatto & Windus, £12.99

It is no coincidence that One of Us begins with the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The concerns of the novel are personal and political ambition and, at its heart, the crimes of personal and political betrayal.

The phrase "one of us" applies in different senses - a marriage partner, one of the family, a political ally. Melissa Benn explores the warmth and the tensions in these relationships, and the brutal consequences for those who don't readily conform and who are no longer "one of us".

If the title is ironic, the theme is elegiac. "This isn't a fucking Greek tragedy, you know," Laura snaps near the end of the novel. But, in fact, it is. It is concerned with pride and conscience, power and morality, the dilemma of taking action or remaining passive. It has its heroine and its traitors.

The Sophocles tragedy of Antigone is used as the framework for an exploration of the personal and political experiences, and the rise and disintegration of two interlinked families.

The play has often been invoked as the inspiration for rebellion. Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Antigone was written in 1942 when the Nazis occupied France. It spoke out against the Vichy government's collaboration with the Nazis, and in favour of the French Resistance. In Benn's story the resistance is to Tony Blair's New Labour Party with their "execrable cheap ideas" and to the murderous and illegal war in Iraq.

"Antigone" means "unbending" and Anna (the novel's Antigone) is unflinching when she makes the decision to tell her story and expose the government's cover-up of an act of political defiance.

The portrayal of Matt, Anna's brother who becomes a spin doctor for New Labour, will strike a dissonant chord: "Matt, she thought, had become larger than life - no, HARDER than life - he seemed to know everything and everybody."

Matt says later, "I'm in here, behind the French windows, cosying up to the rich and powerful." Anna reflects, "He was satirising himself, yet he was deadly serious too."

Most of the male characters in Benn's novel are given a tough time. But she is equally scathing about female "martyrdom". None of her characters are one-dimensional - and she portrays them sensitively, using their past experiences to explain their present behaviour.

It's about time a book like this was written - a novel that deals with the current political scene and that can explore how all our lives are affected by the unmitigated shame and inhumanity of "our" government.