John Madeley is a highly respected author and activist, specializing in development issues. His début novel is a fictionalized account of the 2005 Make Poverty History campaign, culminating in the Edinburgh march and Gleneagles rally in the first week of July 2005. Madeley’s central protagonists are Sara Openshaw, an idealistic young woman, and the Reverend Simon Copplestone, a curate deeply committed to the cause of eradicating poverty but crippled by doubt about the usefulness of his own actions.
The plot reads like an activist’s guide to setting up a campaigning organization, as it takes us through the coffee mornings, publicity stunts and press releases that formed the core of the MPH movement. As Sue and Simon work tirelessly together a rather unlikely romance develops between the married woman and the minister, and the climax of the novel concerns a hunger strike embarked on by Simon, following a harrowing fact-finding trip to Niger.
Beyond Reach? is crammed full of facts and figures on world development but they are poorly integrated into the plot and are often just parroted by the nearest convenient character. Neither fish nor fowl, the book does not work as a novel because Madeley takes insufficient care in fleshing out his characters, and the plot, particularly the mawkish romance, is a distraction from the profound and important issues the author rightly tries to highlight. In the hands of an author with a flair for fiction this blend of the real and the imagined could have worked; John Madeley has produced an honourable failure, but a failure nonetheless.