In a long and distinguished career, Thomas Keneally
has produced many first-rate novels, written with a total command of narrative and immense sympathy for the human condition. If The Tyrant's Novel
doesn't initially appear to boast the power of such Keneally classics as Schindler's Ark
patience should be utilised: in fact, the cumulative effect here is as persuasive as anything Keneally has given us.
Alan Sheriff has enjoyed the spoils of the life of a successful writer and his decision as to where he should continue to reside is curious. This land (unnamed by Keneally) is a Middle Eastern state, suffering under the heel of a murderous tyrant (no prizes for guessing the inspiration here), known by the sobriquet Great Uncle. And as a lengthy and bloody war with a neighbouring country destroys the lives of the people, Sheriff (unlike most of his fellow intellectuals) declines to leave--even when American sanctions cause further woe for the "Great Uncle's" benighted people. By a strange twist of fate, Alan is ultimately forced to meet the tyrant; his life changes irrevocably when the despot puts a proposition to him--one that will test the limits of his conscience, his courage and his humanity.
If Schindler's Ark is the yardstick by which all Keneally's subsequent work is judged, he may finally have written another novel to rival that masterpiece, even though this is a much less ambitious piece of work. The real-life model for the author's tyrant is a hard figure to match in fiction, but Keneally performs a remarkable job, and his Arabic hero is characterised with intelligence and sympathy. There are revelations here that transform this novel into something more surprising than the reader might initially realise, and recent history has given the narrative new relevance. --Barry Forshaw
It's light, relevant, snappy, well paced, subtly structured, unlaboured and interestingly shaded. It has political credentials but wears them lightly, serious characters but sketches them with humour. It's got a useful mise en scene; it's got a plot. But above all that, what makes it such an interesting read, what sets it above and beyond your everyday professionally well crafted novel, are the names ... what Keneally does differently is give all the Middle Eastern characters Christian names ... It's a straightforward technique, and it works. It really made me think about how I'd be reading this story if all the characters were called Ali Tahboub ... The result is that The Tyrant's Novel reads like JG Ballard ... And the details aren't extrapolations from current events - they are current events. Just in case you happened to have forgotten. (Jim Flint (author of HABITAS), Zembla
Light, relevant, snappy, well paced, subtly structured, unlaboured and interestingly shaded. It has political credentials but wears them lightly, serious characters but sketches them with humour ... And the details aren't extrapolations from current events - they are current events. Just in case you happened to have forgotten. (Jim Flint (author of HABITAS), Zembla
Brutal, chilling and moving ... This is thrilling stuff (The Australian
Remarkable ... Here is Keneally at his polemic best and fairest ... it rings - or tolls - like a bell. (Adelaide Advertiser
This crisp, smart new novel - his most accomplished recent work - is particularly timely...Keneally, a consummate storyteller, particularly in recent years, has often relied on tight, suspenseful plots to articulate his concerns. That skill is fully evident in this new book. For that reason, I do not wish to spoil the pleasure many readers will experience as they follow the twists and turns of a tale told with an appealing economy (Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald
It shows why Australia needs writers such as Keneally more than ever before. (Melbourne Age
You won't put it down (Courier Mail