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A phoney book about the Phoney War
on 3 January 2014
The exposition of this novel seems to go on for decades. As late as Chapter 7 new characters stroll in, making us riffle back to see if we have met them before. Few are memorable enough for us to be sure of their names at any point. The constructional technique is that of John le Carré: to introduce characters and plot in an apparently inconsequential sequence which gradually resolves, building tension on the way; but Taylor does not have the imagination to create a world we can care about, and the denouement (such as it is) is risible.
The USP of the book is its alternative history angle. It features the King's Speech that never happened, a speech delivered in 1940 by an Edward VIII who had not abdicated - indeed I wondered if the idea of a tribute to/parody of the Colin Firth "King's Speech" was where the book began. But Edward VIII is not a major character in the story, and history in other respects hardly seems to have changed; so what we get is a dull excursion through "Remains of the Day" territory, without the love interest. There is sex, but it's pretty vague and unresolved, as is most of the action.
I suppose Taylor's intention was a recreation of one of those (fairly common) moments when everyone senses some uncertain catastrophe on the way, and hops about trying not to commit themselves to a point of view before it reveals itself. If so, he succeeds: but not in a very interesting way.