Fatherland, by Robert Harris

December 30, 2010 at 03:56 (Book Reviews, Dystopia, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mediocre Books) (, , , )


Fatherland is one of the better attempts at alternate history, a genre that seems to have been stifled to death with dreary writing that decides to focus on the might-have-beens and the dropouts of the past, usually in a misplaced effort to make a particular point that the author has nurtured since he/she was an angsty teenager/graduate student/communist.

Also, there are Nazis.

Nazism seems to be a rather easy thing to write about, and a rather easy subject to write alternate history about, and so it is somewhat of a relief that Harris comes up with an interesting storyline, a convincing murder mystery and a climactic revelation that manages to thrill and horrify, even when it is no revelation at all.

There is no sign of Hitler, or any glimpses of the higher echelons of the Nazi party, which was almost certainly a good choice. A handful of the skeletal villains lurk in the blackness like the puppet-masters they are, but otherwise the reader’s imagination is left more or less to itself.

Robert Harris deserves full credit for telling a good story, but he also deserves criticism for his style. It is telling throughout that this is his first foray into fiction, and one can hear the transmission grinding and shuddering when he changes gears from Dialogue into Description, or from Chase Scene into Romantic Interlude (and hear the capital letters dropping into place, too). His writing isn’t clumsy, but it does feel very much like a first attempt, and like he is constantly glancing to one side where he has a dozen “real” books propped open to help him out. Perhaps this is more of an editor’s problem, but despite his immense success in writing Nazi Alternate History without making it dreadful, he has a long way to go yet.

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