Besides our narrator, the main protagonist here is Leo, a fellow “employee” of the University, a black marketeer, a drunk and passionate about the “old” Bucharest, it’s culture, town planning, antiques and artefacts. We have dissidents, house arrests, dodgy members of cabinet, seductive mystery women, characters plotting their future in a “new world” and more. This is a book with numerous sub-plots throughout – and some do go missing for 100 pages or so, suddenly to reappear as though the reader can quickly switch on to a long lost thread.
Very early on I was reminded of Kafka, the claustrophobia and the futility of inane actions, and lo and behold McGuinness brings him up. This is a fabulously well written book, with numerous passages that could be quoted, each chapter broken into small 1-2 pages sections and every one of them brings the story to life. However as the novel progressed I became more and more frustrated by the flat linear style and the fact that, in real life, events don’t occur in a neat sequential order ignorant of other simultaneous events.
Although fiction I did also feel as though I was reading an historical recollection, or diarised memories, of events and, again, this did frustrate me a little, as well and the political justification and debate that occurs (although I should add it is not significantly biased to the left nor right, but obviously very critical of Ceausescu’s rule).
It is hard to criticize a book that is so neatly and precisely written, however the soul, unique voice or passion of the narrator was lost on me. Probably not a short list contender, so I’m not disappointed that it didn’t make the final six, but a book worth reading, even if you’re only reading it to understand the political environment in Romania in the last 1980’s. Personally I believe this is a lot better picture of the Eastern bloc, than Miller’s “Snowdrops” – and I do promise, one day I’ll let the rage of that book making the short list go!!!
Just started "Half Blood Blues" and will post my thoughts here soon after I'm finished. Review cross posted at my Booker Prize blog