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A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Amanlies dreamingA Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar has to be the most unusual book I’ve read all year. If it wasn’t for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize I probably wouldn’t have come across it let alone read it, and would therefore have missed a bold, energetic and innovative work of fiction.

Tidar delivers a blend of a pulp-noir tale of seamy city streets, gumshoes and lowlifes with Holocaust fiction and an alternative history of 1930’s Europe. It’s a risky mixture; one that shouldn’t work but, oddly, does.

The scenario imagines that Hitler’s rise to power has been halted and Germany has become a communist state. Most of the leading members of the Nazi party have fled overseas;  many of them are now living in London. “Wolf” (the meaning of the name “Adolf”) is among them; living in straightened circumstances as a private detective. Hired by a beautiful Jewish woman to track down her sister, he sets about his task; bending the ears of anyone who will listen to his rabid antisemitic and extreme views. During his investigation he visits brothels and sado-masochistic clubs; gets beaten up several times; discovers a CIA plot to overthrow the German government and becomes a suspect in a Jack the Ripper style series of prostitute murders. Though he bumps into a few of his former chums and rubs shoulders with the Mitford sisters and Oswald Mosley, “Wolf” is a shadow of his former self.

It was pitiful, watching him hobble along, this once-great man, this leader of men, now like a decommissioned solider, blinded by gas, a beggar man, a sleepwalker almost.

This is however only part of the novel. Woven among the London section is the story of Shomer Aleichem, the dreaming man of the title. Before the war he was a writer of lurid pulp fiction. Now he is a prisoner at Auschwitz, using his dreams to put a barrier between him and the nightmare of his situation. His dreams are of Hitler as a detective …

 

These sections in which Shomer lies on his bed dreaming, give the book a thoughtful, moral aspect which nicely counteracts the fast, page turning delivery of the pulp mystery. Just as the narrative threatens to become ludicrous, Tidhar cleverly pulls away and reminds readers that there is real suffering in the world.

In many ways this is a playful novel. There are some ‘in jokes’ dotted around the text including one scene in which “Wolf” looks upon the London skyline and sees the future…..

Wolf saw the city as he had never seen it, rising before him like a metropolis dreamed of by Fritz lang: huge shining buildings rose amid the squalor of old London. By London Bridge, a shard of glass taller than the pyramids pieced the sky. From the city of London there rose a phoenix egg of metal and glass, and a giant wheel spun and spun on the south bank of the Thames like a mandala.

But Tidhar is also making a more serious point. By using real-world references (for those not familiar with London, the giant wheel is of course the London Eye) and actual figures like Primo Levi and Oswald Mosely’s blackshirted supporters) we’re left with the impression this fictional world isn’t totally out of the realms of possibility.

End notes

Lavie Tidhar was born in Israel but has lived in many parts of the world including Laos and South Africa. He currently lives in London. His previous novels have been in the science fiction, fantasy genres. A Man Lies Dreaming was published in 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton

 

 

 

Snapshot July 2015

The first day of a new month and it’s time to take a quick snapshot of what I’m reading, hearing and watching.

Reading

It seems insensitive to say I’m enjoying reading a book set partly in Auschwitz concentration camp. Appreciate would be a more apt and tactful word perhaps to describe my reaction to A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar.  It’s a curious mixture of alternative history and pulp mystery that imagines a prisoner in the concentration camp using his dreams to block out the pain of his experience. His dream envisages that Hitler’s rise to power was thwarted and Germany became a Communist state. Many of the former regime leaders, like Rudolph Hess,  have fled to London. Wolf (the meaning of the name Adolph) has become a private detective, hired by a beautiful Jewish woman to track down her sister. I came across this when the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prizes were announced last month and Tidhar’s book was named as one of the winners. I’m perplexed why this hasn’t had more attention because its a stunning novel.

Listening

I’ve returned to some crime fiction for my companion on the work commute. Ruth Rendell can be relied upon to tell a good story and The Vault is up to her usual standard so far. It features her best-known creation, Chief Inspector Wexford, except that in this novel he is chief inspector no longer having retired from the force. He’s finding the transition difficult so is more than happy when a former colleague asks him if he’d be able to help as unpaid advisor on a gruesome multiple murder. The Vault is the penultimate novel in the Inspector Wexford series. Sad to think that with Rendell’s death earlier this year there will be no more Wexfords.

Learning

I’ve been playing around with some apps and software programs that enable you to create pictures based on quotes. You know the kind of thing I’m sure – Facebook and Twitter are chock full of them. I thought they might liven up some of my Writers on Reading posts. Inevitably the free programs are rather limiting and I’m not ready to commit to a subscription just yet.  My attempts are a bit basic so far.

Kafkaquote

 

Has anyone come across a good but relatively easy to use program?

 

5 Reasons to be cheerful

sundaysalonI’m often guilty of using this site to grumble so I thought I’d change tack and for share some positive news for once. Actually I have several things to feel cheerful about.

1. Awards. Justice at last for Jim Crace whose novel Harvest should have won the 2013 Booker Award because it was simply outstanding and far, far superior to the other shortlisted titles.  I was delighted to see this week’s announcement declaring this book the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It’s a recognition that is long overdue. If you don’t know this novel, take a look at my review 

2. Acquisitions. Two of my library reservations came through yesterday. Just in time because I was on the final few pages of Ghost Road by Pat Barker which I didn’t enjoy particularly.  I now have The World of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson to look forward to opening tonight. This is the second book by her which features Thomas Hawkins, a young ne’er-do-well in seventeenth century England who somehow can’t help getting involved in events which threaten his life. Her debut novel The Devil in the Marshalsea which I read just last month was so good I was delighted to find her follow up was just out.  The World of Thomas Hawkins is a sequel to The Devil in the Marshalsea but the publishers say it can also be read as a standalone historical mystery.

Here’s the blurb from the publishers Hodder & Stoughton:

Spring, 1728. A young, well-dressed man is dragged through the streets of London to the gallows at Tyburn. The crowds jeer and curse as he passes, calling him a murderer. He tries to remain calm. His name is Tom Hawkins and he is innocent. Somehow he has to prove it, before the rope squeezes the life out of him.

Doesn’t that just want to make you open the book immediately?? For me yes, but then I also collected another novel which I’ve had my eye on for some time. A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar, is a novel about revenge and redemption, that was named this week as a winner of a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. The UK publishers Hodder & Stoughton describe it as:

Deep in the heart of history’s most infamous concentration camp, a man lies dreaming. His name is Shomer, and before the war he was a pulp fiction author. Now, to escape the brutal reality of life in Auschwitz, Shomer spends his nights imagining another world – a world where a disgraced former dictator now known only as Wolf ekes out a miserable existence as a low-rent PI in London’s grimiest streets.

The subject matter will not make this a comfortable read I’m sure but it’s such an interesting premise that I’m looking forward to getting stuck in soon.

3. Progress. Although I’ve weened myself off doing challenges for the last few years, I still have a few reading projects underway.  While I haven’t made any conscious effort to make progress on them it seems I’m further ahead than I would have expected. With the completion of The Ghost Road, I find I’ve read 25 of the 47 Booker Prize titles on my list so well over the half way stage. I’m also exactly half way through my Classics Club project with just over two and half years left to read the remaining 25 novels. And I’m bang on target with the TBR Challenge run by Roof Beam Reader which is the one and only ‘challenge’ I’m doing this year. Usually I’m moaning that I’m behind schedule with my reading so it makes it a pleasant surprise to be right where I want to be.

4. Unplanned reading. A couple of months ago I decided that if I wanted to preserve my sanity I needed to stop creating reading schedules. I was spending too much time fretting about the fact that if I didn’t read book X then I’d be behind with my world literature project and if I didn’t read book Y I’d be late in delivering a review of an ARC.  Reading stops being fun when you’re having to read a particular book or following a prescribed schedule. So instead I just adopted the behaviour of picking up whatever book was on the top of the two piles nearest to hand – one is my TBR challenge listed books and the other is a motley collection of classics and Booker prizes. And if I don’t fancy what my hand rests on, then I just scan the vast number of titles yet unread in the bookshelf.  Hassle free reading is much more delightful than scheduled reading.

5. Library news. Progress this week on the campaign in which I’m involved to save our local library. A High Court judge has ordered our local authority to respond to our complaint within one week. We’ll then have a further week to make our own responses before the judge will rule if there is a case that needs to be heard. So though we’re not yet claiming victory, it’s at least some positive news.

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