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.
It took me a while to figure out what other book JG Ballard’s “High-Rise” reminds me of. In my defence I have to write that it has been ages since I’ve read “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, another novel about how people react under special circumstances. Whereas Golding sets his figures on an uninhabited island, Ballard unfolds his story in a huge skyscraper, the High-Rise, a building that offers literally everything the inhabitants need from a supermarket and a school to restaurant and swimming-pools. No wonder the flat owners – as the story unfolds – are gradually losing interest in the surrounding world and stick inside the building.
“With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school (…) the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation.”
All the way back to the primitive ways of existence
Robert Laing, a doctor and medical school teacher who moved into his flat on the 25th floor after his divorce, soon finds himself too lazy to go to work and spends his nights protecting himself and some neighbours from other inhabitants. Gradually living in an exclusive flat means getting back to the most primitive ways of existence: staying alive, getting something to eat, having a safe place to sleep.
“The building was a monument to good taste.”
The intensity in JG Ballard’s “High-Rise” comes from a language that is almost neutral and a complete contrast to the story itself, that is told like a non-fictional topic with a storyteller who seems only to describe what he sees or what he has been told. That’s why this novel is so brilliant and thrilling at the same time.
JG Ballard: High-Rise, Fourth Estate, about 7 £
In the movie adaption of “High-Rise” Tom Hiddleston takes the role of Robert Laing.
Photo: Petra Breunig
What is a good book, a good novel? One that grabs you, draws you inside it’s pages, inside the story and even stays in your mind when you have read the last word. At least this is what I consider a good book. And “The secret history” by Donna Tartt is definitely a good novel.
That is because the story is so well written that once you have read a few pages, you have difficulties putting the book aside and if you have to – you know real life can be very demanding and your boss won’t take “reading” for an excuse – you want to know very badly how the story unfolds. That story takes the reader to Hampden College in New England, together with the narrator Richard Papen who moves all the way from California to study English Literature here. Soon he discovers that the only thing he really wants to learn is classic languages and attend the classes of Julian Morrow, a teacher who only has few pupils, four boys and a girl. A elitist group which is centred around Henry Winter. Henry is a stranger in modern times together with his intellect, his knowledge about everything and his appearance he seems to be another Sherlock Holmes. A hint that Sherlockians of course will get at the very beginning of the story but which Donna Tartt picks up every now and then.
“(Henry Winter) might have been handsome had his features been less set, or his eyes, behind the glasses, less expressionless and blank. (…) He spoke a number of languages, ancient and modern, and had published a translation of Anacreon, with commentary, when he was only eighteen.”
Richard convinces Julian to take him into his classes and finds himself within a community that while concentrating on ancient languages lives a life separated from their fellow students, even from modern life itself.
“The secret history” is thrilling, neither boring nor predictable and you will regret deeply when you have reached the final page.
Donna Tartt: The secret history, Penguin £ 8,99.