Rose Tremain is not a bad writer, but the third story in this collection exposes so many inaccuracies and errors that it seriously compromises her standing as a writer and says much about the incompetence and ignorance of sub-editors in publishing houses. Get the work out into the marketplace and worry about any mistakes later, seems to be the overriding message.
(1) Hector, spelled with a "c" and not a "k" is a very unusual name for anybody in the GDR to have given to a son, especially since the daughter ended up with a very German name (Ute).
(2)There were no pink banknotes ever while Germamy still retained the Deutschmark. Tremain is possibly confusing this with the colour of the ten euro banknote.
(3)How would the "hero" of this story ever have known that he had too low a sperm count? This small detail is totally implausible.
(4)Tremain has a young man digging up plant bulbs in a cemetery in December. Since the bulbs do not start to produce any shoots until the following spring how could anybody know WHERE exactly the bulbs were buried?
(5)Tremain has the hero take a tin of spam with him. Spam is common in Anglo-American territories; it was totally unknown in the GDR.
(6)Hector is described as eating mixed pickles (elsewhere in the story these are then called dill pickles and cucumbers). No, what he was actually eating were gherkins. Pickles again is a completely inauthentic transfer of an Anglo-American culinary detail to the German context.
(7)The Polish border is NOT 100 kilometres from Berlin; it is almost half that distance. And anybody who knows anything about East European topography and climate would find it absurd that Hector could even contemplate going by bike in the direction of Russia as winter approaches.
(8) German homes, both in the west and in the east, never had any wall-mounted electric fires, like the one Tremain describes. Again, completely inauthentic.
(9)Crosses in Catholic processions are never carried by priests but by servers.
(10)At one stage in the text we read the following: 'Then a voice, very near, said in broken German: "Are you waking, sir?"' 'Sir' and 'Madam' are again typical of English modes of speech; there is no direct equivalent for this in German.
Why have I spent so much time listing these ugly blotches in just one story? Because they call into question just how much poetic licence Tremain gives herself, particularly in the lead story when she can really only speculate about precisely what happened in that house in the Bois de Boulogne. If readers uncover no end of mistakes in the details of stories, they can have little faith in the writer's ability to convey deeper insights.RestorationMerivel: A Man of His Time