This is a rough sketch of how I think Defoe might have written it:

John Darwin, in case you spent the weekend inside a soundproof bag, is the man who walked into West End Central Police Station in Piccadilly late on Saturday afternoon, five and a half years after he went missing at sea. He has been presumed dead since his canoe was discovered in pieces near Hartlepool in March 2002. He has no memory of anything that happened after June 2000.

Imagine the possibilities. This man was a relic of the millenarian age of innocence. Is it possible that terrorists will ever make a major strike against a US or British city resulting in mass loss of life? we would ask him, What kind of group might perpetrate such a strike? If they do, and assuming they have no direct links to any particular nation state, what would be the appropriate response?

When you walked into the police station and saw that the policemen carried guns, were you surprised?

He might have been set to become a liberal’s totem, the man who sees it like it really is. Newspapers would have clamoured for his opinion. He would have spoken, a little glassily, at dinners, on the violently clashing reality around him, as compared to the world he had left. He would have addressed meetings. By and by, he might have addressed rallies. He would have been mentioned in the House.

He would hide any signs that his memory was coming back as this would mean abandoning the role of seer. If he knows he is doing and saying the right thing, where’s the harm in allowing people to believe that his words have a cache denied to those not suffering from amnesia? His pronouncements would result in good and in evil, to his own awe and horror. And a number of personal and private reversals later, he would have withdrawn from the public eye and relearned the art of living quietly.

And then, one day, a knock on the door, and this. The whole thing perhaps nothing more than a badly-executed insurance scam. There are no magic answers to the human condition after all.

Maybe it’s a little more Swift than Defoe, actually.

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