This ingenious novel succeeds in being both a highly readable story of second world war derring-do and its aftermath and a clever Celtic knot of a puzzle about writing itself. These two functions of the narrative can’t really be separated out: it’s the seductive believability of the storyline that repeatedly makes Guy Ware’s point that stories aren’t true – even when they’re based on historical events – and yet we yearn for them to be so. We can’t even be sure that Ware’s opening note is true: his novel grew, he says, from family stories about his grandfather, purported to have been a spy who was helped to escape from Nazi-occupied Norway by a man whose family paid a terrible price for his courageous act. Just who is telling this story? There are different narrators, but verbal tripwires indicate that all is not as it seems: impossible echoes from one person’s account to the next alert us to the, yes, fictional nature of what we are being drawn into and pull us up short. The complexity of who saw what and wrote what is maddening but also exhilarating, and very funny in places.
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