No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, January 22, 2016

2016/09: Europe In Autumn -- Dave Hutchinson

So Leo ... told him a mad story of chefs and restaurants and catastrophic jumps and hot briefcases and heads in lockers, a riot in a national park, a fake barristers chambers, a year of moving from place to place incognito. [loc. 4511]

An espionage thriller with undertones of New Weird and at least one conscious nod to Douglas Adams, set in a near-future Europe which is fracturing into micro-states. Rudi, an Estonian chef, is asked to help his manager's relative escape 'the Independent Silesian State of Hindenberg -- formerly the Polish cities of Opole and Wroclaw (formerly the German cities of Opeln and Breslau)': once that mission's complete, he finds himself in the process of being recruited to a shadowy and old-fashioned spy network, the Coureurs du Bois. (Rudi notes that their operational jargon sounds like something from a John Le Carre novel.)

Rudi's career as an international man of mystery encounters a couple of sticking points, but he holds to the notion of 'keeping alive the spirit of Schengen', even when it becomes (very gradually) apparent that there is something unusual about the Trans-European Republic -- an independent state, nowhere more than 10k wide, which was once the TransEurope Express, a railway line stretching from Portugal to Siberia. The Line seems to be the root (route, haha) of the setbacks and impossibilities that Rudi encounters.

One of the things I liked most about this novel was its awareness of genre fiction: Rudi is clearly a fan of spy novels, often comparing the Coureurs' operations unfavourably to spy novels. I wish he'd also read more SF and / or magic realism: some Mieville, maybe, or Borges, or a nice chunk of Kafka. I certainly caught echoes of all those authors.

Rudi is a likable protagonist, with no major flaws (aside from an occasional tendency to experience his life as though he were in a film): an everyman. I enjoyed Hutchinson's worldbuilding, appreciated his humour, and was caught up in the intricacy of his plotting. Not all of the plots are neatly tied up at the end of Europe in Autumn: actually, the stage is set for ever more Byzantine evolutions. Interested to see where the story goes in the second volume (Europe at Midnight).

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