First - there's no gangsters here. If that's what you're expecting, you're in for something very different. In fact I suspect that whatever your expectations regarding 'House of Rumour', they'll be totally and utterly confounded.
This book is unconventional in its structure, cryptic by nature, demanding, engrossing; at times it sucks you in, at other times it spits you out. With force. And it's science fiction. It's almost as if it had exploded out of Jake under pressure and splattered across the pages, propelled by the collected weight of a legion of gangster stories as it finally got a chance to emerge, rather than written routinely - it feels like it HAD to come out.
At its core lie the hearts of writers like Philip K. Dick and J G Ballard - science fiction masters who, whilst always remaining entertaining, attempted at times in their books to convey realities and concepts that would simultaneously baffle and delight; anyone who has read most of Phil Dick's work will be familiar with the wonderfully disorientating and vividly psychedelic nature of his books, and the dark paranoiac center that often hid within.
There are many different time settings to the tale, and it gleefully jumps from one to another, chapter by chapter, as it progresses; each one is headed by a tarot card (the significance of which is not often clear (even, I would guess, if you have a good knowledge of them). Here, Jake gets to showcase one of his major strengths - he's able to evoke each era very clearly and convincingly (readers of his previous books can attest to this), and the presence of real-life characters like Ian Fleming, Alaister Crowley (he's popped up in a few books recently) and Rudolf Hess only add to the authenticity.
The title refers to the world of espionage, propaganda, intelligence and misinformation. Very apt, as you'll feel like you don't know which is which at times. It convinces in a way that only very well-researched stories do, and there are literally hundreds of little nods and references to authors and others that SF fans - and anyone who is well-versed enough to 'get' them - will heartily enjoy.
However, this multi-period setting does have its drawbacks: the chapters are quite short, and it can feel at moments like you're in a strange theme park - one minute you're in the 1940s, the next the 1980s... then the 1960s - often, just as you're getting comfortable and hungry for more, the chapter ends and you have to reorientate yourself to start on the next one. It took me half the book just to figure out how the different - disparate - elements related to each other, and there were moments where I felt a bit lost and confused. The structure also made it difficult to pick up from where I had left it, and I had often to go back to the chapter before just so that I could try to orientate myself a bit.
This is, more accurately, speculative fiction - as most good SF is. The subjects being speculated upon include multiple universes and the 'crossroad' moments that happen at major turning points in history where a choice is made, and a new future possibility created (these are known as 'Jonbar points' - a concept derived from the Jack Williamson SF novel 'The Legion of Time', written in 1938, where the utopian or dystopian future is decided upon whether the central character, John Barr, chooses to pick up a magnet or a stone). Am I confusing you yet?
At the start of the book, a girl writes the story of Hess's flight to Scotland two years before it happens; Arnott later examines his motivations, and asks us the question: Could authors, by creating a vision of the future, also be creating a reality of that future somewhere?
I've been trying to write this review for a week now - if you get the chance, read this book and you'll see why I've found it so difficult to do. I suspect this will make a lot of the gangster fans irate - it will also make a lot of science fiction fans who like a challenge very happy indeed.
Hard work at times, but rewarding to those who stick with it. I defy anyone to do a short review for this book!
on 30 September 2012
"The House of Rumour" is Jake Arnott's tour of 20th century curios taking in some of its most defining moments and including some of its most interesting and notorious individuals. Reality and fiction blur as created characters mix with real people, and events have a habit of connecting to other events with tenuous links - "jonbar points", to use sci-fi vernacular.
A classified paper detailing a secret government operation in World War 2 to use black magic and astrology to lure Hitler's second in command, Rudolf Hess, to leave Germany for Scotland is stolen by a transvestite prostitute in late 80s England from a retired spymaster. From there Arnott sends the reader back to the dark year of 1941 where the war was firmly in favour of the Nazis and a young Ian Fleming, commander in Naval Intelligence, utilised his contacts to arrange a meeting with Aleister Crowley, once known as "the wickedest man in the world".
Crowley agrees to Fleming's bizarre plan (or is this disinformation?) to hold magical gatherings to lure Hess to Britain, sending word to his cult centre in California to do the same. And so on to California where we meet a young (fictional) author, Larry Zagorski, who is introduced to Robert Heinlein and his Manana Society where he meets L Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons. I won't go into the various strands of the story because there are too many to list but they include the Nuremberg Trials, the Cold War, the Cuban Revolution, Jim Jones' Peoples' Temple, UFO conspiracies, and culminating in space with the Voyager 1 probe.
Jake Arnott has written some tremendous books so far in his career but "The House of Rumour" is his best yet and definitely his most ambitious. It is structured in the style of tarot cards with 21 chapters each named after a face card ("The Hanged Man", "The Hierophant", "The Female Pope", etc.) with each chapter told from the perspective of the rich and varied cast of characters.
It's a beautifully written novel full of fascinating people and events. I loved the parts in the 40s highlighting the Golden Age of science fiction and reading about the exploits of Jack Parsons (a rocket scientist who would die in mysterious circumstances) and L Ron Hubbard (who would go on to found the controversial religion Scientology), Arnott captures the spirit of the age showing the naivety and excitement of the times. The communes and free love read like the 60s but this was the 40s, a time that wasn't as innocent as some would make out.
Across the pond, the Ian Fleming chapters were my favourite. You get a great sense of the man he was and how frustrated he was that he wasn't the suave, manly character he wanted to be. In a particularly funny section he saves a Moneypenny-like colleague from an assassin in a bungling way before sitting awkwardly with her afterward, cursing that he hadn't the courage to take her to bed immediately after killing the assassin. He thinks that one day, with words, he will make this right.
Years later after his Bond novels have made him rich and famous, he gives a clue as to the meaning of this novel. "The House of Rumour?" "At the centre of the world where everything can be seen is a tower of sounding bronze that hums and echoes, repeating all it hears, mixing truth with fiction." (p.244). The House of Rumour is deception and counter-intelligence - disinformation fed to the enemy. And that's what this book is full of: deception. A transvetite who looks like a woman but is a man; a troubled female David Bowie groupie becomes a man; a writer whose life influenced his fiction (Fleming) and a writer whose fiction influenced his life (Hubbard); a prescient novel called "Swastika Night" allegedly written by a man is revealed to have been written by a woman (this is real novel); and a fictional writer, Zagorski, writes a novel with each chapter named after a face card in the tarot...
The novel talks about utopias and dystopias and is full of examples: the Cuban Revolution which tried to create a socialist paradise before becoming a bankrupt third world country; Jim Jones' Peoples' Temple which promised paradise on earth but ended in mass suicide. Each character is looking for truth in their own way - but what is true in this twisting hall of mirrors story?
There is so much about this novel I enjoyed but this review is already too long to talk about them. I will say that a number of reviews have said this novel has no plot as if this is a critique against it; I agree that the book has no plot but disagree that this is a bad thing. When a novel is this entertaining, where each chapter takes you into another fascinating life, bringing colour to episodes in history previously unexplored (where else will you get such a description of what Hess must have felt inside the cockpit of the plane as he prepared to parachute out over the Scottish Highlands?), who cares that there's no plot? Does a novel always have to have a plot to be considered "good"? I think "The House of Rumour" proves resoundingly that it doesn't.
"The House of Rumour" is a wildly ambitious, perfectly executed novel full of secrets, conspiracies, anecdotes featuring the occult, and a veritable cast of anti-heroes and oddballs that spans both space and time, layering the novel in meaning and dead-ends. It's a novel that's thrilling to read but also contains so much that it invites repeated readings and no guarantees that there are answers to it at the end. Jake Arnott has created in "The House of Rumour" a mesmerising, meditative, and vexing story whose secrets always seem within reach to the reader - but always just out of reach too. It's an amazing accomplishment and a masterpiece - "The House of Rumour" is definitely my favourite novel of 2012. Bravo, Mr Arnott!
I enjoyed Jake Arnott's last book The Devil's Paintbrush, which told the story of Major General Sir Hector Macdonald and occultist Aleister Crowley meeting briefly in Paris in 1903. Early on in The House of Rumour it appears the author is about to repeat the trick, with Crowley teaming up with James Bond-creator Ian Fleming. What an interesting read that would have been. Sadly Crowley's appearance is a mere cameo and Fleming is swiftly sidelined.
The House of Rumour is ambitious, but flawed. There are lots of interesting ingredients - Golden Age science fiction, Nazis, UFOs and the occult - and a kaleidoscope of characters. Each chapter picks up the story from a different character's perspective. Sadly, the book never quite coalesces into a whole. Maybe the fractured nature of the story is making a comment on something, but I would struggle to tell you what. Perhaps that's a problem when you are reading a novel that deals in misinformation. It's interesting to follow the links between each of the stories, noting the parallels and similarities.
You can't fault the breadth and depth of Arnott's research and there is much to enjoy in this novel. There are some funny moments, and some deeply moving scenes too. While The House of Rumour is not perfect, it is a memorable read that will linger long in my mind.
on 26 August 2012
I have bought and read all Jake Arnotts books. This is perhaps the most elliptical - the most fractured.
The rest of his books tell a clear story, mixing fictional events and characters in the world of real (or lightly anonymised) people. Jake Arnott is a master of this style!
This book follows the same approach, but lacks a clear narrative direction; linking as it does the secret security services of the 2nd world war with the emerging Thelemic order of the OTO in California during and after this period. Add in the defection of Nazi deputy leader Rudolf Hesse, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, rocket scientist and Magician (really) Jack Parsons, Ian Fleming plus an assortment of SF authors, beat poets and pre-hippies.... well you get the idea.
Although up to the usual very high standard of period accuracy and in depth portraits of the main characters the story doesn't lead anywhere....
Perhaps this was the intention, the whole point? If so, it worked!
on 17 September 2015
House of Rumour might loosely be described as a meta-conspiracy thriller with a definite literary, rather than genre, style. I viewed it as being almost a companion piece to Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow and Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, although it’s more accessible than either. The many threads of the story touch twentieth-century culture at numerous points—the predominant arc concerns Rudolph Hess’s flight to Scotland, and manages to incorporate figures such as Aleister Crowley and topics such as pulp 1940s sci-fi. Arnott even manages a passing reference to Adam Ant and Vivienne Westwood. While it might be said that there is a conspiracy at the heart of the tale, there is also a heart at the heart of the tale—a touching but fragmented love story spanning decades. Is it a ‘page turner’ in the traditional sense? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes you’ll need to invest effort and patience, and to engage your brain, to get the best from it. It is a brave, ambitious novel of ideas and a novel that neatly captures the prevailing mood(s) of the twentieth century. Recommended.
This is the latest from Jake Arnott and it is as ever quite an ambitious plot. He has once again mixed fact with fiction, what some have termed `faction' but I am not sure the OED would agree. This is based loosely on the 22 major arcane tarot cards, with each chapter taking one of the cards as a title and indeed a relevant character.
We start with Jake Zagorski and the blossoming Science Fiction pulp writers in America of the 1940's, when imaginations were let to run riot and not be tempered by any actual real space travel. We them move onto WW 2 and British Military Intelligence getting involved in the `black arts' or negritude as they called it. This was a way of spreading disinformation and or counter intelligence, and the occult had its place, especially as Hitler and co were quite often fascinated by the stuff. So we get real characters like Aleister Crowley and Ian Fleming being brought in and I must say it did start to get very intriguing at this point. Then it jumps to another character and so on.
We also have continued references to Rudolph Hess and the British plan to lure him for secret peace talks that culminated in him crashing into a Scottish Moor before spending the rest of his life in prison and being partly responsible for giving a name to a lack lustre eighties new romantic beat combo.
We even have the Jonestown massacre at one point and L. Ron Hubbard. It did feel that some of these episodes had been shoe horned in and that it was a fantastic display of Jake Arnott's encyclopaedic knowledge, but not in a show off way. It helps if you have an understanding of SF lore and literature as well as an understanding of the occult all backed up with a healthy dollop of modern history, but if you don't then it may not hold up too well. The reason for that is that every chapter tells part of the story from a different characters perspective and the various sub plots are all tenuously linked. Whilst this was obviously the authors intention and is reflected in the title `House of Rumour' it takes a bit of getting used to.
I have read all of Mr Arnott's books from `The Long Firm' to `The Devils Paintbrush', and I feel this has been his most ambitious and yet for me least rewarding, which is a pity. Every time I got involved with a character we moved on and had to become reinvigorated; only for the whole process to start again, so that is why I have rated at three stars. It still was a compelling read but required renewed commitment at each chapter start, but if you are into existentialist SF with a hint of historical parody then this could be for you.
I struggled to know what to make of this book, and working out what to say in a review is proving equally taxing. It reminded me as a whole of John Fowles's ambitious novel 'The Magus'. The Magus has the major arcana of the tarot as a central conceit, much like this novel. It too feels unfinished and impenetrable, and at times rather too clever for its own good. I felt stupid reading this book, and I am not stupid. Well, not that stupid. It introduces so many ideas, so many theories, so many conspiracies it is hard to know where to start, and nothing is ever finished off. It sprawls awkwardly from the dawn of the golden age of Science Fiction writing to modern day taking in esoterica, espionage, dark magic, homosexuality, cults, the birth of the rocket age, and the rise and fall of the Nazis to name but a few. I kept stopping and going back to see if I was missing something as I followed one thread of the story only to find it tailing off and another taking its place. The central story seems to be something to do with Rudolph Hess and his visit to Scotland in 1941, and whether this was part of some plot by British intelligence or Nazi intelligence, and whether black magic was involved along the way. Potentially interconnecting stories twist and loop back upon themselves and it is never clear what is paranoia and what is real.
What I found so frustrating was the fact that there was no still, central point from which you as the reader could orient yourself in relation to this novel. You are sucked along in the maelstrom of stories and rememberings and drug fuelled ramblings with no real reference point. The characters are singularly unappealing and I found myself totally adrift. I do not mind this for a while, but for four hundred pages I found it got a bit stale and in the end I realised I just didn't care what happened to who or why or whether any of it was real or not, I just wanted to finish it and move on.
on 29 September 2013
There are so many rave reviews (or bits of reviews) on the book cover that I assumed that I was about to read a masterpiece. Well, having read it, a masterpiece it isn't. I was left wondering what it was all about, and what was the point of it. There are numerous different story threads, set at different times in history, occurring pretty randomly as far as I could judge, labelled as cards in the Tarot pack, sometimes connected, sometimes standalone. The idea that the course of human history is undetermined until observed, a bit like Schrodinger's cat, seems to ignore human nature and information theory. And to say that the universe is a hologram generated from a distant event horizon is getting a bit daft. A bit like new age rambling based on lack of scientific understanding. The book was readable, but I didn't get a lot out of it. Perhaps it's all too clever for me.
on 6 September 2012
I'd read a review somewhere describing this novel as the thinking person's Da Vinci Code or something of the kind. I was disappointed with what turned out to be a not very exciting journey round a variety of not very interestingly connected threads of sci-fi linked plot. The writer jumps about in space and time; I think we are meant to be impressed at this complex structure, but I just found it irritatingly confusing.The only plotline that promised much - around Rudolf Hess's flight to Scotland in 1941 - was eventually swamped by the rest. Having bought the book, I read to the end, but was left underwhlemed at the end.
We've all experienced 'Sliding Doors' moments: those points in time when events could go in one of two ways but, whatever the outcome, we know for sure our lives will change. Sci-fi writers call moments like this a Jonbar Hinge, and the great Jonbar Hinge of World War II was early 1941, with the US and Japan not yet drawn into the conflict, Germany not yet fighting on the eastern front, and nuclear and rocket technology a still just a gleam in the scientists' eyes.
The House Of Rumour takes this pivotal moment as its starting point, and assembles an unlikely cast of characters all jostling to influence its outcome by fair means or foul, including Rudolf Hess, Alastair Crowley, Ian Fleming, Werner Von Braun and L. Ron Hubbard. The extent to which these diverse individuals were actually involved in a single conspiracy is the business of The House Of Rumour - in other words, the black arts of intelligence, misinformation and psychological warfare. It soon becomes clear that nothing, to coin a cliche, is as it seems.
Jake Arnott's novel approaches its core material from a kaleidoscope of vantage points, some contemporaneous to 1941, others in the far future of the 1960s, the1980s or even the 21st century. This actually gives the book a frustrating structure, which shuttles forward and backward in time, and which hands the narrative baton to a sequence of characters, such that the book feels at times more like a series of closely linked short stories than an actual novel with a plot and a sense of narrative direction and momentum. Minus one star for that.
Minus another star for lacking any real emotional core. The scattershot plotting and the unwieldy cast of characters together deprive the book of any focal protagonists. There's simply too much going on, across too many overlapping time frames, for any one of the individual characters really to blossom, and this makes it hard for the reader to care that much about any of them.
Having said all that, this is still an enjoyable, brain-tickling read. Even if it's short of plot and character, those two mainstays of popular fiction, its Big Themes are handled entertainingly. The real heroes of this book are its ideas, of which there are many, and which are cleverly marshalled through the twists and turns of the narrative 'structure'. Lovers of Borges novels, Charlie Kaufman movies and Umberto Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum' will feel right at home.