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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Disclosure, by Michael Crichton, Reviewed

First published in 1994, Disclosure by Michael Crichton, is one of those novels based on actual events, though this is not made clear until the end of the book, in an ‘afterword’. Whether that information would have made any difference to my reading is an unknown. It reads like fiction, so I read it in that spirit.

The stated theme is that of sexual harassment and its potentially corrosive effects on both corporations and society in general. Written at a time when such complaints were increasingly being made by men against female employers, it examines the subject in detail, without ever making it into a treatise. The facts and ideas emerge naturally as part of the plot, as guided by the characters. So, it’s a cleverly constructed work. There was, for me, another underlying theme, though I’m not certain the author presented it consciously: I hope he did. That other idea concerns the corrupt foundation that underpins many commercial ideas and actions. The presentation of many characters as ruthless, uncaringly ambitious and utterly devoid of any moral compass creates an atmosphere in which even a flawed hero can appear almost saintly by comparison.

There were times, early in the book, when I was unsure whether I would read to the end. For reasons that have nothing to do with the story, I had to read it in a number of small bites. Only the last third of the 450 pages was I able read in anything like uninterrupted form, which was just as well, since the denouement starts early and builds very well over these last pages. But the reason for my initial hesitation was twofold. There’s a deal of inconsequential detail; the sort of thing that apprentice writers are warned against: what someone had for breakfast, the processes of domestic living, etc. The second barrier was the amount of technical information given in the form of either business or product-specific jargon, often without sufficient explanation. Having been involved in both business and computers during my lengthy employment, I was able to interpret enough of this to make it at least comprehensible. But I suspect many could be thoroughly confused by it, and I doubt it was essential to the story; less technical descriptions could have been given instead.

However, I’m glad I persevered. The story grew more engaging as I learned more about the main characters and came to care what happened to them; both good and bad. It’s an absolutely essential aspect of the story for me: without at least one character I can empathise with, I’m unlikely to finish a novel. Fortunately, due to good writing, there were many well-written and engaging characters in this tale.

Lauded as ‘The thriller that opened a new chapter on the sex wars’, this is a book that allows the modern reader to more thoroughly understand the mechanisms, philosophies, emotions and ambitions that drive some of the sexual harassment cases that continue to be made by both genders.

Is it a good read? The curate’s egg comes to mind, but, once over the unnecessary detail and jargon, I found the book illuminating, interesting and even engaging. So, for me, this turned out to be a good read in spite of its flaws. And I’d recommend it to those who have some knowledge of business and the world of computing. For others, it may be sensible to have a dictionary of business terms and another of computer jargon to guide them through the sometimes cryptic language.
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