A passionately realized novel about an affair between a wandering American and cutting-edge female novelist
Clancy Sigal’s fourth novel centers on expatriate Gus Black, a freethinker who moves to England in search of a new life. He absorbs the native culture by plunging into its dark corners. Amid the upheavals, he lands a job at Vogue, consorting with models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, and commences a passionate affair with Rose O’Malley, a brilliant writer loosely based on Sigal’s real-life lover Doris Lessing.
Set in the swinging London of the fifties and sixties, The Secret Defector is a portrait of an American on the loose striving to define himself against an alien yet oddly familiar culture. Sigal’s frequent themes of the working class, the counterculture, and Marxism are in evidence, as is his self-deprecating wit. This quasi-autobiographical novel takes Clancy’s trademark energy to confront the decline of the left and the rise of feminism.
Clancy Sigal was born and raised in Chicago, the son of two labor organizers. He enlisted in the army and, as a GI in occupied Germany, attended the Nuremberg war crimes trials intending to shoot Herman Göring. Although blacklisted and trailed by FBI agents, he began work as a Hollywood agent on the Sunset Strip, hiding in plain sight and representing Humphrey Bogart, among many others.
Sigal moved to London in the 1950s and stayed in the UK for thirty years, writing and broadcasting regularly from the same BBC studios that George Orwell had used. During the Vietnam War, he was the “stationmaster” of a London safe house for American GI deserters and draft dodgers. For several years, he collaborated with the radical “anti-psychiatrists” R. D. Laing and David Cooper, with whom he founded Kingsley Hall in London’s East End, a halfway house for so-called incurable cases.
Sigal’s most recent book was the memoir Black Sunset: Hollywood Sex, Lies, Glamour, Betrayal, and Raging Egos (Soft Skull Press, 2016).