By Tim Bragg
Paper – 256 pages
The English Dragon is the story both of loss of innocence and the quest for the meaning of identity. A baby is kidnapped from a railway station in London and his father, Oliver, vows to find him. Part of the narrative is conveyed through the eyes of the baby/toddler – Ben. In the father’s search he is taken from a rural setting into the depths of London – and he continually asks what it means to be English. While handing out leaflets carrying a photograph and details of Ben (and approximate time of abduction), he meets a young man called Adam. Adam is a poet and runaway. Adam has information that will help find the child. The baby, Ben, gets caught up in the kidnap gang’s life. Shoplifting, drug taking and a bizarre appearance on the Harry Hangar Show (surely not a satirical stab at Jerry Springer?) comprise some of these events. As the baby’s story unfolds there is a degree of both horror and humour, with English contemporary culture exposed and often ridiculed.
Oliver, Ben’s father, is lead to the squat where Ben has been taken. Adam seems to have had problems while he lived there. By a twist of fate Adam meets members of the squat, on a bridge over the Thames, as they take Ben into the centre of London. After a brief exchange of insults Adam is thrown from the side of this bridge. The gang, led by Johnny, laugh this off and continue with their fun.
Oliver keeps an all night vigil at the squat and eventually comes face to face with Johnny and the gang as they return with Ben. A fight entails between Johnny and Oliver. Oliver triumphs and later his family are re-united. In the meantime it transpires that the old rectory in the village near where they live is to house asylum-seekers and Oliver’s wife, Rowan, has been asked to teach English. Wishing to agree to this she first asks Oliver’s opinion. He, both emotionally and morally sums up the dilemma of asylum-seekers entering England. Rowan is shown as someone who draws strength from the Romantic Poets. After Ben’s abduction she is left at their small-holding to look after the animals she and Oliver have taken in – and await news re her critically ill father. During the novel, and after visiting the vicar, she goes to an evangelical Christian meeting at the church. This both unnerves and shocks her. During the service “Ben” “talks” to her through one of the congregation “speaking in tongues”.The English Dragon is a daring and radical book. The mere fact that it discusses England and Englishness will probably upset some people – that it also dares to examine political-correctness and modern culture in a fair-minded and open fashion will be enough to slay the beast in the minds of many. For the bolder, stronger reader then The English Dragon might have an extremely sobering effect. This novel challenges.