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The Violent Century
on 19 January 2014
I had to think about this book for a while before writing the review, just to mull it all over. This is an absolutely fantastic book, I had no doubt about that; but how to review and explain it to a new reader?
What do Fogg and Oblivion have in common? Not fog and oblivion; but Fogg and Oblivion. They are both `changed'; members of the Bureau, those shadowy observers who have been affected by the change generated by Vomacht's machine, enrolled in the team led by the Old Man. Found and trained in the lead up to the Second World War, a large part of this story takes place during that war; the horrors on the Eastern Front, in the depths of Germany, in Paris, across Europe and beyond. But the end of the War is just the beginning. Because for the changed, the War never ends.
The author has written comics and screenplays as well as novels, and that's what this novel `sounds' like, if I can put it like that. Actually it's a bit like watching a movie; scenes change, we see people and actions and they scroll before us. Indeed the novel shifts between scenes; 164 of them in all. At first, the method of narrative is short, blocky with no speech marks around speech. It took me a few pages of this to get it straightened out in my head, but then it just seemed to flow, like it was visual, unfolding into the scenes without the need for such things. Let me give you an example:
Oblivion nods. As though he understood more than the words. Your smokescreen? he says, softly.
- It's just habit, Fogg says.
Oblivion nods. I remember.
- Old tradecraft, Fogg says. Sounds sheepish.
I absolutely loved this book; it was clever, ambitious, stunningly original; a brilliantly clever weave of fact and `maybe' fact/fiction - who knows for sure? But it's breathtakingly well constructed, and totally enthralling. I was drawn into it and held enthralled in the story till the last page, sorry when it ended. This would have to be one of the top 10 best novels I've read in the last twelve months.