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

Friday, June 03, 2016

2016/31: Europe at Midnight -- Dave Hutchinson

I still wasn't sure whether England was in Europe or not; I had the impression that the English would have quite liked to be in Europe so long as they were running it, but weren't particularly bothered otherwise. [loc. 4054]

Second in the trilogy that started with Europe in Autumn: I liked that very much, and Europe at Midnight is equally engaging whilst having quite a different tone.

The anonymous first-person narrator (who sometimes goes by the name Rupert of Hentzau) is Professor of Intelligence at the University -- a vast, sprawling institution riven by conflict. ("I'm still helping to prepare the case against the Arts faculty.") I understand that academia is an innately cutthroat environment but this seems rather more extreme than the usual: mass graves, escape groups, martial law, executions et cetera. It is, apparently, impossible to escape the University. The forest and mountains beyond the river are unreachable.

Also, there's an outbreak of an especially virulent flu, and rumours of something ugly being discovered in the Science Faculty's labs...

Back in Britain (well, England), intelligence officer Jim is investigating a routine stabbing in Finchley. Except there's something odd about the victim. He's not from around here.

Rupert and Jim, it turns out, are approaching the same intrigue from different angles, with little overlap in their knowledge or understanding. They're both good men, in the sense that Le Carre's protagonists are good men: not afraid to uphold their principles and enact their loyalties by any means necessary; determined to do the job that needs doing; plagued by self-doubt, telling themselves they are the good guys.

The University is creepily like a Conservative party political broadcast: 'The Community was dull. It was nice and it was quiet, if you lived in the right places, and there was full employment and nobody was starving and everybody was happy. It was no wonder people wanted to leave.' [loc. 5177] And the fractured Europe in which Jim lives is even more horribly credible than it was when the novel was published. Case in point: the Eurovision Song Contest has nearly 600 entries and takes place over a week.

In Europe at Midnight we learn more about the Community -- the hidden state existing parallel to our own -- and there are brief appearances by a couple of characters from Europe in Autumn. It is, as well as being a Cautionary Tale in these post-referendum days, often very funny. But where it excels is in its depiction of the alliances, friendships, romances and feuds that web together the University, the Community and the fragments of Europe. Hutchinson manipulates a large cast of varied characters without compromising their individuality or their agendas, and shades his Borgesian espionage thriller with plenty of emotional colour.

I am really looking forward to the final part of the trilogy, Europe in Winter, due in November.

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