Like The Death of Men, one of Massie’s great novels, Surviving is set in contemporary Rome. The main characters, Belinda (the heroine of the Massie’s second novel, The Last Peacock), Kate, an author who specialises in studies of the criminal mind, and Tom Durward, a scriptwriter, attend an English-speaking group of Alcoholics Anonymous. All have pasts to cause embarrassment or shame.
Tom sees no future for himself and still gets nervous “come Martini time”. Belinda embarks on a love-affair that cannot last. Kate ventures onto more dangerous ground by inviting her latest case-study, a young Londoner acquitted of a racist murder, to stay with her.
There is another murder, but this is not a murder mystery. What matters is the responses of the characters to the catastrophe. The atmosphere of Rome is lovingly evoked.
The dialogue, in which the characters reveal themselves or seek to avoid doing so, is sharp and edgy. Allan Massie dissects this group of ex-pats in order to say something about our inability to know, still less to understand, the actions of our fellow human beings, even when relationships are so intense. It is also, therefore, impossible or at least difficult to make informed moral judgements of others.