It is a novel. A fiction, not a documentary about the life of Alan Turing. This is important because people tend to take every word for granted, weighing it carefully, comparing it to proved facts about the man who helped to break Nazi Germany’s Enigma code.
David Lagercrantz takes those facts and some more (Alan’s homosexuality, his somehow awkward behaviour, his genius) and unfolds his story from the very last day of Alan’s life and the moment his corpse is discovered by a local policeman. This man, Detective Constable Leonard Corell, takes a very special interest in this case that seems to be nothing more than suicide. Step by step he dives deeper into the life and thinking of Alan Turing – a journey which doesn’t leave his own life untouched.
“(I)f indeed anyone was an unbreakable code then it was Alan himself.”
“The Fall of the Man in Wilmslow” is a thrilling story that hooks you from the very first page. If (and this is an if I only can claim for myself) you already know something about Alan Turing’s life and impact. Then you find hints you have read elsewhere, imagine pictures, films or documentaries you have seen or listen to and you will be able to find your pace between fact and fiction this novel is constantly mixing up. If you haven’t stumbled upon Alan Turing at all, you probably will be lost in between the complexity of the story that hops from the past to the present and back again, changes perspectives and comes up with names and places you might find confusing because you have never heard of them. If you still want to find out more about Alan Turing, start with a biography (or click on the link given below).
David Lagercrantz: Fall of the Man in Wilmslow. The death and life of Alan Turing. A Novel, MacLehose Press, about 9£.
You find more about Alan Turing here on my blog.
What is the point in writing another biography of Alan Turing more than 60 years after his death? And what can be really new when you know Andrew Hodges’ “Enigma” which is both a thrilling approach to the professional life of the man who helped breaking the German Enigma code in the Second World War and an look inside the man who wasn’t allowed to live and love as a homosexual man in the UK of the 50s?
The point is that the author Dermot Turing, is Alan’s nephew and although he has never met his uncle, he takes the reader with “Prof – Alan Turing decoded” inside the Turing family, presenting not only pictures you may not have seen before but also letters and notes scribbled by Alan when thinking about his work (which makes me wonder how his third notebook which was sold at an auction earlier this year may look like. ) Although the book is – as always when it comes to very specific scientific topics – not always an easy read. But even if you don’t have the brain of a mathematician or a computer expert, you’ll can’t help but to be in awe of a man who apparently was awkward and brilliant as a codebreaker in Bletchley Park and as the father of the computer age, somehow way ahead of his time and down to earth in a stunningly pragmatic way.
“He was a strange character, a very reserved sort, but he mixed in with everyone quite well.”
A way that wasn’t always an easy one to cope with. Imagine Alan at your door at any time of day without any notice to announce his visit or him walking away when he found a conversation boring. But he easily connected with children whom he met on equal levels and talked seriously about such things as if God could catch a cold when he sat on wet grass.
“Prof” is a biography about a man “who had something special which the rest of us do not”. It is worth reading.
Dermot Turing: Prof – Alan Turing decoded. A biography. The history press, about 20€/ 16£.
Alan Turing – his work and impact.
At the beginning: two confessions.
The first: The name “Bletchley Park” sounds familiar for me since years. I can’t remember why or can’t put my finger on the occasion when the place where hugely intelligent minds cracked the German Enigma code during the Second World War first appeared in my knowledge. And the fact that “Enigma” is connected to Alan Turing was always hidden somewhere in the far regions of my brain – maybe because of some history teacher back at school (a bow to him whoever he was).
The second: it needed a Benedict Cumberbatch to get my mind to work and bringing my knowledge back to me. So when it was confirmed that Benedict was about to play Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” I happily dived into the topic, reading Andrew Hodges’ “The Enigma” and literally getting my hands on any possible information about the codebreaker that helped to shorten the war and saved millions of life. And soon enough I made up my mind to see Bletchley Park for myself, a wish that came true in September of 2015.
Only about an hour train drive from London, Bletchley Park is a space packed with a huge pile of information about Enigma (there are lots of different machines on display), both a replica of the original Bombe and the one used in the film “The Imitation Game” (that helped decoding the German messages very fast) and insight looks into life at wartime Bletchley Park with the help of sounds and voices at special spots throughout the place and with offices decorated with very much love to every single detail so that the rooms give the impressions their inhabitants are just off for a lunch break (as the sheet of paper in their typewriters say).
Alan Turing’s desk Photo: Petra Breunig
Especially in Alan Turing’s office, looking at his desk with papers spreading everywhere, his wardrobe where clothes are stuffed carelessly inside and the radiator with a mug chained to, ready to be used in a moment, the past seems to be so alive that I expected Alan Turing tapping me on the shoulder when I carefully stared at his desk, taking a picture.
With the special exhibition “The Imitation Game” about to end on November 1st 2015, some Benedict Cumberbatch fans who are in London for “Hamlet” at the Barbican may think about a visit – they should make up their mind.
[Update: The Imitation Game-exhibition will be open at least till July 2016 “due to popular demand”.