Amis’s thought-provoking, award-winning, look at the mind of a Nazi involved in the horrors of the holocaust is a very interesting read. The central conceit is that a second voice, the narrator, sits in the mind of the war criminal, watching his life play, backwards. This novel technique means that acts of appalling violence appear to the narrator as acts of great compassion – for example, torture victims are apparently magically healed by the anonymous man we follow through the book.
Amis cleverly juxtaposes this with the man’s life as a doctor, which the narrator perceives as the work of a torturer… this inversion of the truth is a very effective method of showing just how distorted the truth of Nazi Germany (or indeed any country exposed to propaganda) would have been. This is very thought-provoking… and you certainly have to do a lot of thinking when reading this book, what with all conversations taking place in reverse and so forth.
However, interesting and intellectual as this book certainly is, Amis does very little else after establishing the raison d’etre of the story. Once you’ve “discovered” (the jacket gives it away immediately) the author’s conceit, then you could, almost, write the rest of the book yourself and realise the points Amis makes without actually reading them. Interesting and, at times, entertaining though it is, more could have been done to make it a more fulfilling read. Single-concept efforts take a lot of talent to pull off successfully – talent Amis certainly has; he just didn’t use it to its fullest here.