Literary Merit of “The Investigatory Powers Bill”

I give this bill one star out of ten. It was an arcane and boring read and far overstayed its welcome at 300 pages including explanatory notes. What few characters were present in the work were identified only by letters (“person P”, “legal advisor L”), had no characterization and were present only for as long as necessary to state what they may or may not do. The entire novel is written in some sort of esoteric postmodern style, as a footnote to a surveillence state which has grown out of control; but we are never shown that society or its workings. While the esoteric style is original, the work ultimately fails to pull it off or make what little story there is compelling. The closest thing to a protagonist throughout the entire work, the Secretary of State, is never elaborated upon or even referred to other than by their title. We end up knowing nothing about their motivations, only the arcane powers they may — or may not — choose to excercise in precisely ordained manners. Perhaps the work is trying to say something about we can and can't do, and what within what we can do, we do or do not. Or perhaps the bill is trying to convey the impersonality, the inhumanity of the Secretary of State; their apparent interest only in notices and warrants and authorizations which may or may not ultimately end up mattering to something significant.

We might imagine the Secretary of State as a person in a metaphorical box, into which countless requests for warrants and authorizations are placed, and for which she can only sign them and return them through a slot in the wall. Then what does the novel convey? Clearly it is the journal of the Secretary of State and their agonies in deliberating over those requests submitted to them. What the novel then truly represents is the Secretary of State's attempt to find their own principles and moral philosophy in a world where their only prerogatives are to approve or deny abstract measures divorced from any fundamental human motive. It may be that the Secretary of State is in a state of mental ill health. Indeed, we do not even know their gender, not the slightest detail about them, as though they possess no id, no ego, identity at all but their role. The novel then works indirectly, by portraying the writings of the Secretary of State in their desparate attempts to confer mental coherence on themself, lest they act inconsistently or forget their own principles.

We never see the Secretary of State recover from their mental illness or reengage with society. Instead it is a bittersweet ending, in which we are simply left to muse on their incurable madness. Perhaps the work is a statement on the inevitability of human hypocrisy; for it is only in the mind of the most mad, most lost Secretary of State that a total order and total consistency of principle can be obtained. The Secretary of State thus lives by a rulebook and by a world which they will never see, because it does not exist, except in their minds. The Secretary of State, then, is a person who chooses the solace of perfect order and consistency, over the messy hypocrisy of reality. The Secretary of State's underlying psychological desire for total order and total consistency dictates their rejection of reality, and insistence on dealing with it in only the most stilted, bureaucratically proscribed manner. Perhaps in doing so, they hope that the world outside will come to reflect the shadows they imagine; perhaps all of their acts (which we can only infer, for we never see the Secretary of State take any action at all) are simply a desperate endeavour to reform the world to something with which they can bring themself to reengage.

There is no progression of time in the novel, except for references to abstract periods of time which may begin or end in relation to abstract procedures. None of the characters make any appearance; what characters there are are spoken of only in absentia. It is Waiting for Godot in its extremis, but without even Vladimir or Estragon to comment upon the absence of the Secretary of State or any of the other characters.

Who, then, is the narrator? Either it is the Secretary of State who always refers to themself in the third person, for whatever reason, or it is the third person. But then why does the third person speak only in statements about what may or may not be? These questions are never answered, as the novel seems determined to stick to its minimalistic economy, keeping it devoid story, exposition or the slightest explanation or characteristation.

Bizarrely, the author themselves seems to have a drastic and unprecedented lack of confidence in their own verbiage, as demonstrated by the hundreds of pages of footnotes which attempt to explain, in marginally more personable language, what they meant in the first place. If even the author of a work cannot find their articulations likeable, it is beyond saving.

Ultimately even when a heroic effort is made to rescue the novel from its awkward mode of expression and reconcile it into what it truly has to say, when the reader makes an above and beyond effort to repair the flawed work in their own mind and draw conclusions therefrom, the novel fails to satisfy to even the slightest degree. This experimental philosophical novel never even begins to appeal to any human value. Rather, it falls flat on its face and doesn't get up again.