I really wanted to like Croc Attack! I did. It’s not a bad idea for a novel. You have two narrators – one, Croc, an Israeli, survivor of three separate terrorist attacks over the space of a week, propelled into the limelight, interviewed on TV and radio, an unlikely figure of Jewish resistance to the third intifada; the other, Fahmi, a Palestinian, caught up with the people responsible for the attacks themselves, training up suicide bombers and strafing cars on the expressway with rifles. Pretty much from the get-go, we know these two are on a sort of collision course – certainly the back cover copy makes the inference (‘If the Palestinian cell behind the attacks weren’t after him before, they are now’) – but it’s not quite as clear cut as all that (and explaining why it isn’t clear cut goes some way towards explaining why the book itself isn’t quite as good as perhaps it could be).
Part of the problem is to do with pace. Croc’s narrative is all over the place – he’s here, he’s there, he’s at work (he works for an organisation who strive to shave valuable seconds off call centre interactions), he’s at home (he lives with a feisty lawyer type called Duchi), he’s attending a funeral and flirting with the girlfriend of a guy whose last words he heard on a bus before it blew up – and is relatively racey; Fahmi’s narrative is much more problematic as he is lying comatose in a hospital bed piecing together his version of events as a nurse called Svetlana does her best to coax some life into him. Whereas Croc’s bits are quite zingy, Fahmi’s are somewhat repetitive. As such, Croc feels more authentic as a voice than Fahmi (which is a shame given that Gavron is an Israeli himself, attempting to do something quite interesting by giving a voice to both sides of the conflict, but he isn’t wholly successful).
Even within Croc’s bit, however, there are problems. We meet Croc aboard a small bus called the Little No 5 where an old lady is wondering whether a gentleman at the front is a terrorist or not. When no-one responds as she would like them to, she gets off the bus and Croc gets talking to a good looking guy called Giora Guetta. After the bus explodes, Croc rescues Giora’s PalmPilot from a tree and becomes semi-romantically entangled with Giora’s girlfriend Shuli. Pretty much the first two thirds of the book – inbetween the odd explosion here and there – revolve around Croc’s flirtation with Shuli. In the last third of the book, as Croc’s relationship with Duchi falls apart, the Croc narrative becomes much more straightforwardly detective as he attempts to find out what Giora Guetta was doing in Tel Aviv in the first place (by which point you can’t help wondering why he is trying to find out about Giora Guetta, other than it being a contrivance to move the plot forward).
More broadly, some of the writing isn’t very good (David Mitchell and Joe Dunthorne are emblazoned on the cover talking up how good the book is, I disagree with pretty much all of the words they use), the hectic pacing of Croc’s bit masquerades as comedy but it isn’t funny, really, and Fahmi never quite comes to life (which given that he’s lying in a hospital bed isn’t too surprising but then Irvine Welsh made it work in Marabou Stork Nightmares so it can be done). For me, this is a book that, with some rigorous editing and two or three rewrites, could have been a smart little contemporary novel. As it is, sat upon the shelf alongside Ours are the Streets and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Croc Attack! comes out something worse for wear.
Any Cop?: If you were looking for a novel that attempts to get to grips with the Middle East conflict, you’d be better served by Hubert Haddad’s Palestine. Croc Attack! is something of a misfire…