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Book Review “Half World,” a Novel about MKULTRA by Scott O’Connor, Ranks with Graham Greene’s Strongest Fiction

Alex Constantine - June 6, 2014

Weekend Bookworm: Half World

By Rob Minshull

ABC Brisbane, June 6, 2014

Rich in philosophy and dark in its politics, Half World is an incredibly beautiful literary thriller which The Los Angeles Review of Books has quite rightly compared to some of Graham Greene's strongest works.

Like Greene, Scott O'Connor recognises that "the power of a political thriller lies less in the exposure of governmental or corporate corruption and more in our relationship with this corruption."

And so meet Henry March, an unassuming CIA analyst in the 1950s and responsible for the San Francisco branch of MKULTRA, the CIA project in which unwitting American citizens were subjected to insidious drug and mind-control research.

The horrific experiments take their toll on both innocent subjects and CIA agents alike. Henry, a devoted family man, can cope no more and disappears - along with his record of events - into the ether. The scarred and terrified victims disappear too.

Both, however, threaten to resurface to tell the world what happened and to exact revenge. Written over two main time frames, the second stage of the book leaps into the early 1970s and the CIA - caught up in the drug-induced Vietnam era - is determined to cover its tracks. Agents and victims of MKULTRA go on a hazy hunt for Henry in a hallucinogenic 'half world' of paranoia and pills.

This is a novel about a complex reality soothed with the drugs of a completely captivating story; although based on actual events in the 1950s, O'Connor recaptures the illicit CIA experiments with LSD as only a great fiction could dare to imagine.

Emotionally harrowing and yet full of dark, searing humour Half World is a stunning and provocative novel. It is, wrote Karen Campbell in The Boston Globe, "part literary suspense, part psychological examination with undercurrents of existential dread and an abiding hope of redemption."

With a multitude of tales of compromise and corruption, duplicity and devotion, Scott O'Connor's Half World taps into recent history to reunite the 21st century with persistent fears of an omniscient Big Brother and the malevolent men who are always willing to serve him. A glorious read.

Half World, by Scott O'Connor, available online: