While the suspense is maximally exploited—whether the gorgeous, charming Professor Portecorvo is a thoroughly depraved individual or a victimized innocent is a truly intriguing puzzle—the novel is just as preoccupied with how truths and falsehoods can be perceived as slippery, or subjective, or tailored to public opinion. As defense lawyers are fond of saying, the truth is less important than the convincingness of a story, and Leo goes one step further than that. “The only true story,” he thinks in despair, “… is the one everyone will believe,” which “speaks of the moral corruption of a twelve-year-old girl by a fifty-year-old man at the peak of success.”
At Words Without Borders, I reviewed Chilean novelist Roberto Ampuero’s English language debut, The Neruda Case, a globe-spanning detective story featuring Pablo Neruda and his checkered love life.
HHhH by Laurent Binet — a novel about the author’s obsession with Reinhard Heydrich, the high-ranking Nazi who masterminded the Final Solution — won the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman and a bunch of critical raves. I admired aspects of it but found much to quibble with too.
As Fiction Uncovered announces its 2012 best of British fiction selection, I review one of the picks, This is Life by Dan Rhodes, alongside another Paris-set novel, You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik. I loved them both, although the latter’s controversial provenance makes for a complicated reading experience.
At Words Without Borders, I review Always Coca-Cola by debut author Alexandra Chreiteh, a surprising, disturbing and mordantly funny novel about what it’s like to be an obedient young woman in contemporary Beirut.
Dora’s own doctorly ambitions were thwarted by her father, who was of the firm opinion that studying medicine ‘would ruin her eyes, her looks, her reproductive health and any prospect of a settled future’, so she’s only too pleased that her duties for Dr Kemble extend well beyond typing and filing. In her first week she’s posing as the ‘alley murder’ victim while the doctor tears at her blouse to see ‘whether the assailant was left- or right-handed’, attending a ‘morbid anatomy demonstration’ on a man hideously ravaged by tertiary syphilis, and sitting in the public gallery of the ‘charm bracelet murder’ trial, where Dr Kemble is giving evidence in the case of another dead blonde, this one older and, as the defence counsel damningly establishes, ‘fond of society’.