Fiction's power of insight can lend a certain psychological inevitability to nearly any desperate crime, except, for some reason, terrorism. Is it that the act itself defies explanation? More probably, the spectacle of the novelist straining after relevance becomes more diverting than the story he has to tell. Still, if John Updike couldn't pull it off, there's little shame in failure.
The debut novel from Sunjeev Sahota, which displays some of Updike's perceptive flair, does better than most. His portrait of Imtiaz, a young British Pakistani driven to violence by many grinding humiliations, is gruffly tender in the British kitchen-sink tradition.
Imtiaz feels spasms of rage when he sees his accomplice dressed in a chip-shop uniform and overflows with gratitude when Rebekah, his white girlfriend, goes out of her way to put his poor immigrant parents at ease. His actual terrorism, alas, is depicted in a hallucinatory mode, sidestepping the question of plausibility. Yet his strange, keen observations - a nurse's black hair is "tied up in a messy top-knot, as if someone had struck oil in her head" - make him a compelling outsider.