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on 10 September 2009
Jeremy Dyson is the non-acting co-creator of The League of Gentlemen TV series so one might think a novel by him would be full of surreal, very funny characters. Not a bit of it. This is a realist novel with vein of serious romanticism running through it. It is very well written taking its main point of view from Alastair,15 years-old when the novel begins, who has been chosen to take part in a TV programme in which events in history are enacted and parallels are made with what is happening in the world at the present time. Great idea for a TV series, but this one is fictional and takes the story of a Romanian family caught up in the war, reminding us that it wasn't just the Jews of Germany who lived in fear and terror. This family is hidden in a cellar beneath a restaurant and Alastair plays one of the boys. Alastair is actually Jewish and he is affected by a diary one of the other actors, Alice, gives him, written by the character she plays, the sister of Alastair's character.
Alastair, who hasn't much acting experience but is talented enough to learn on the job, finds himself falling for Alice, but is far too inexperienced to do much beyond yearning adolescently. Steve, a slightly older boy in the cast, invites them both to a party, but he has designs on Alice too and it is here that a terrible event occurs which is to wreck much of Alice's life and has repercussions on Alastair too, leading him to make a catastrophic mistake later in his adult life.
The novel is a little plodding in the early chapters and the mixture of narratives, from Alastair's point of view and from Alice's, sometimes interrupt plot development when they might have been more effectively continued. Nevertheless, this is a good novel, with engaging characters and a narrative which resonates and intrigues throughout.