Saturday, 30 April 2011

Fatherland by Robert Harris

Now its very rare that I write negative thoughts on a book, but this is one of those posts, if you don't like reading that type of post then please take warning.

Fatherland is our school bookgroups next read - we're not a successful bookgroup at the moment being on our third book and never having had a meeting to discuss a book as yet. As soon as this book was decided on I was wary, the novel is an imagining of what the world would be like if Hitler had won the war. I read a book on exactly the same topic a few years ago and loved it (The Children's War by J.N Stroyar, you should check it out if this type of story line interests you in anyway), so I was already wary knowing this had a high level to live up to; secondly this is a detective novel and I don't do to well at those (I recently read The Maltease Falcon and was full of scorn for the type of story and inherent sexism). Yet I have heard great things of Robert Harris, knowing several people who love his stuff and it was a bookgroup choice so I duly brought my copy (thankfully secondhand for less than £3).

In Fatherland Detective March, a divorced, work obssessed rebel (who just happens to be against that Party line) is called one night - when he shouldn't be working - to the discovery of the body of a prominent figure in the Party's death. Rather than just accept the story that the man had drowned whilst swimming March digs away at a story that clearly isn't meant to be told. Through a series of chance encounters (a young, sexy American journalist who is also a rebel and sees Berlin through America's less clouded eyes) and secret meetings, favours cashed in and sly operations March is soon in the thick of it, despite several warnings to leave well alone. He is on a mission to find out what happened to the Jewish and who knows about what.

My problem with this book was the shambles of the place and the stereotypes: the absurd amount of clues just left laying around; the fact he was told to leave the case well alone yet managed to run around Berlin, board a plane to Switzerland, get in and out of government agency buildings all without being caught; the fact that Nazi Europe is never really described and created beyond a few uniformed SS Guards; him, March, he never seemed to overly care enough about much to give all this effort and finally the poor construction of Charlie, the sexy American (to be fair nearly all characters were like cardboard cutouts of your traditional stereotypes but she wound me up more because she was meant to be intellectual). Charlie, a wealthy American survives in Berlin working for a low budget, low selling newspaper after screwing up her university placement and a job at The Times by screwing the boss - clever girl! She seemingly survives on whisky, has gorgeous men in love with her, falls in love with the potato-faced 40 odd year old March (she has a thing for older men!) and is contacted with underground news through a public payphone outside of her apartment.
I think I could have handled all the coincidences, afterall it is fiction, if Germany and the characters had been better drawn. Afterall I'm happy to suspend my disbelief, in fact I love living in other worlds through books, but I need the author to create the bones and flesh of the world a bare outline just isn't enough.

I will say in its defence, of the four of us who have read this book for this group read and finished it so far its an even mix, two of us couldn't stand it whilst the other two loved it. I'm now off to read Proust, what a juxtaposition!


C.B. James said...

I read this way back when it first came out in hard cover and was unimpressed. I remember thinking that it was a decent enough story, but that similar novels had done a much better job with this idea even back then.

Lisa said...

I did enjoy this one; just took it for a thrill ride and suspended disbelief. There were a lot of things that I found implausible but then those same kinds of things happen all of the time in thrillers, both books and movies, so I guess we're supposed to just relax and believe these guys are just that good.

katrina said...

Good to see some varied opinions guys x