Review ~ Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Fall of Man in Wimslow cover via Goodreads

Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz, trans. George Goulding

From the author of the #1 best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web—an electrifying thriller that begins with Alan Turing’s suicide and plunges into a post-war Britain of immeasurable repression, conformity and fear

On June 8, 1954, Alan Turing is found dead in his home in the sleepy suburb of Wilmslow—an apparent suicide. Investigators assumed he purposely ate a cyanide-laced apple because he was unable to cope with the humiliation of his criminal conviction for gross indecency. But Leonard Corell, a young detective constable who once dreamed of a career in higher mathematics, suspects greater forces are involved. In the face of opposition from his superiors and in the paranoid atmosphere of the Cold War, he inches closer to the truth and to one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Second World War–what was going on at Bletchley Park. With state secrets swirling in his mind and a growing fear that he is under surveillance, Corell realizes that he has much to learn about the dangers of forbidden knowledge. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Alan Turing was an interesting guy and I’ve been wanting to read more about him since being pretty disappointed with the movie The Imitation Game. Unfortunately, I think I originally believed that this was a nonfiction work, which it isn’t.

What Worked
Lagercrantz does a good job with the setting. He needs a repressed, tattered, paranoid 1950s England, and that’s certainly what we get.

The book also slips into some rather lengthy passages about mathematics that aren’t too confusing, though I’m only assuming that the information is correct. The main character, Corell, studied mathematics in his past, and his delves into the subject seemingly give him some insight into Turing. It’s an interesting way to look into the character of Turing, though I’m not sure it was entirely satisfying for someone (me) who wanted more of a factual character sketch.

What Didn’t Work
It took the majority of the book to get to the actual plot—a noir-ish bit of spy story. Yeah, the mathematics is a great way of getting to know Turing, but it ended up being a bit long.

I also didn’t quite buy Corell’s character development. It felt too rushed, squashed into the last forty pages of the book after being in a holding pattern. As is always the case with translations, I wonder if some of the occasional clunkiness of Corell might be due to English word choice.

Overall
Regardless, this book did pull me along. If you don’t mind some digressions into mathematics (as a philosophical endeavor), give it a try.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Vintage, 2017
Acquired: Won this book from Goodreads, 3/31/17
Genre: literary fiction, mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

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Deal Me In, Week 22 ~ “Fable”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Fable” by Charles Yu

Card picked: 5
Found at: The New Yorker

So, I’m fairly certain that I picked this story due to Tom Gauld’s illustration. (Check out the above link for it, or more of his work at his webpage. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably familiar; I retweet him quite a bit.) Halfway through “Fable” I thought, “This story reminds me of what I consider the difference between YA and other adult fiction: YA asks, “What am I going to do?” and adult fiction asks, “What have I done?” And towards the end of the piece I thought, “Wait a minute. Charles Yu. Have I read other stories by him?”

As a matter of fact, I’ve read a whole collection by Charles Yu! And I enjoyed it! I just have a really bad memory. And rereading my review I thought the very same thing about those stories as I did this one. Charles Yu has a really good ear for telling stories to and about Generation X—a group raised on geek culture, who are reaching middle age.

Once upon a time, there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work through some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.

“Fable” is a about the stories we want to tell about ourselves and what our stories really are. The man in this story has made many compromises to have a comfortable life for his wife and for his special needs son. The metaphor of the fairy tale he uses doesn’t go far, but maybe it does lead him to a path through his own haunted woods.

Deal Me In, Week 19 ~ “Aloha Oe”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Aloha Oe” by Jack London

Card picked: J – Jack of Spades for Jack London, hadn’t realized I’d done that when assigning stories to cards.
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story
At the dock in Honolulu, a massive crowd is gathered to bit farewell to the Senatorial junketing party. Among those leaving are Senator Jeremy Sambrooke and his lovely daughter Dorothy. Among those staying is Stephen Knight. While the senators had been wowed by sugar cane and coffee barons, Knight had shown off the rougher side of Hawaii. In particular, he shown Dorothy volcanoes and taught her how to surf. And until this moment of parting, with “Aloha Oe” being sung to them, Dorothy had only saw Knight as a playfellow. In this moment under his gaze, she’s suddenly aware of womanly feelings for him.

Which is a little eye-rollingly cringe-worthy. Numerous times, we’re told of Dorothy’s “ripening,” which is at least balanced by how masculinly masculine Knight is. Though I am a child of the late 20th century, I’m kind of surprised that Dorothy, at age fifteen, is just now noticing boys/men and is just now being noticed by them.

Alas, even if distance didn’t separate Dorothy and Stephen after her departure, the fact that he’s hapa-haole, or of mixed heritage, would prevent him from being marriageable. Hapa-haole also can refer to music that is Hawaiian in tune, but with English lyrics. London concludes the story with the only time he includes English lyrics in the song:

Aloha oe, Aloha oe, e ke onaona no ho ika lipo,
A fond embrace, ahoi ae au, until we meet again.

The Author
I haven’t read much London. Is he better with nature than with people?

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “Scarlet Stockings”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Scarlet Stockings” by Lousia May Alcott

Card picked: 10
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story

“What will you do then?”

“Nothing, thank you.”

And settling himself more luxuriously upon the couch, Lennox closed his eyes, and appeared to slumber tranquilly. Kate shook her head, and stood regarding her brother, despondently, till a sudden idea made her turn toward the window, exclaiming abruptly,

“Scarlet stockings, Harry!”

“Where?” and, as if the words were a spell to break the deepest day-dream, Lennox hurried to the window, with an unusual expression of interest in his listless face.

Harry Lennox is a man of leisure, perfectly happy to while away the hours during his visit to his sister’s sleepy town. The only diversion is Belle Morgan, the lovely and spirited young woman who wears the scarlet stockings.

Belle initially sees Harry as a “peacock,” but after she becomes friends with Kate Lennox, she is willing to see more in him. Belle’s idea of happiness is to do service for others, joyously and uncomplaining. She is a patriotic American. She is appalled that Harry sees himself as half-English and believes he should remain neutral in the conflict between the Northern and Southern states. Eventually, Belle admits to Harry that she and Kate conspired to wake Harry out of his comfortable life, but not until, unknown to Belle, Harry has enlisted. Is he doing it only to win Belle’s heart? Is Belle a hypocrite when it’s Harry’s life and limbs on the line? Will Harry even survive??? I must say, I was a little worried when I came to Part III of the story WHAT BECAME OF THEM.

There is a lack of communication among the characters which I always find to be a frustrating trope in literature (and other forms of storytelling). This might be why I’ve never quite taken to Alcott as an author. But otherwise, this is a deft story told mostly through dialogue.

Deal Me In, Week 7 ~ “The Hofzinser Club”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Hofzinser Club” by Michael Chabon

Card picked: Ace
Found at: The New Yorker

The Story
I bookmarked this story sometime last year, thinking that it was a piece by Chabon that I hadn’t read before, and perhaps an extra story about Josef Kavalier, one of the protagonists of his novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Alas, no; not material I hadn’t read, but a stand-alone-ish chapter of the novel. Chapter 3 to be more specific.

It’s a good chapter, detailing young Josef Kavalier’s initial interest in escapology. He decides to plan a stunt to get the attention of the Hofzinser Club—Prague’s foremost magician’s club. The stunt is successful, but there are consequences.

Funny thing: In the novel, this chapter led Eric to become quite grumpy with the book due to a detail that wasn’t believable.  In the novel, the river that Josef jumps into (handcuffed, shackled, and tied into a sack) is 22C. That’s about 71F which isn’t really cold. In the short story, the temp of the water is 12C (53F) which is probably more like what the River Vltava in September would be. Or at least the kind of cold you’d want for a death defying stunt. From skimming both the novel chapter and the short story, the novel version seems a bit padded out. I like the version in The New Yorker better!

The Author
From Wikipedia (because I find this to be a good summary):

Chabon’s work is characterized by complex language, the frequent use of metaphor along with recurring themes, including nostalgia, divorce, abandonment, fatherhood, and most notably issues of Jewish identity. He often includes gay, bisexual, and Jewish characters in his work. Since the late 1990s, Chabon has written in an increasingly diverse series of styles for varied outlets; he is a notable defender of the merits of genre fiction and plot-driven fiction, and, along with novels, he has published screenplays, children’s books, comics, and newspaper serials.

Deal Me In, Week 4 ~ “Axis”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Axis” by Alice Munro

Card picked: 2♠ – WILD Card!
Found at: The New Yorker

The Story
I had originally picked a different story for this week’s Wild Card, but I decided to keep with the suit’s literary/classics theme instead. After a little thought, I decided to try an author that I’ve heard a lot about from fellow Deal Me In participants (and from Short Story Magic Tricks), but whom I’d never read before. I chose Alice Munro and her story “Axis.”

The story is about three characters—Grace, Avie, and Royce—and shifts between their POVs. Grace and Avie were friends, or at least classmates, in college. Both are farm girls, at the university on scholarship to study history. While they look down on the girls at the Secretarial School, who only seem to be at the university to wed boys at the Business School, they are looking to marry intellectuals themselves. Avie seems to be free spirit of the two. She has had sex with Hugo, her sort-of boyfriend. Hugo is more interested in Avie than she is in him. Avie is in fact more interested in Royce, Grace’s boyfriend. The pre-marital sex leads to several pregnancy scares which in turn leads to Avie having a dream about having two daughters, one of which cries all the time and is shut away in a basement. The dream upsets Grace more than Avie.

Over the summer, Royce visits Grace at her parent’s farm. On his way he sees Avie in a town he passes through. While he hasn’t given a thought to her before, he is taken by how happy she looks. He considers getting off the bus, but continues on. A WWII vet and a philosophy almost-graduate, he gets a taste of farm life at Grace’s. Royce doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He’s quit college and is working as a taxi driver. Philosophy isn’t working out for him. For a moment he thinks that farming might be nice, taking over Grace’s family farm after they’re married. Grace decides to give in to sex during his visit, but the two are interrupted during the act. Fed up, Royce leaves. While hitchhiking back, he sees the Niagara Escarpment which sparks a life-long interest in geology. He goes against what is expected of him and goes back to school.

Fifty years later, Royce sees Avie on a train. Avie married Hugo, had six daughters, and was contented. She’s now widowed and is again a bit at odds with life. Royce never married but had has a fulfilling career. Grace, like the daughter in the basement of Avie’s dream, has been more or less forgotten, lost track of once all three had quit school. For a moment, it seems that Avie and Royce might have a second chance at life together in their old age, but Avie brings up Grace and Royce clams up once again.

Two daughters in the dream; one difficult and forgotten, one pleasant and given a good life.  Two female characters: Grace who strings Royce along and Avie who pretty much goes with the flow. Definitely some parallels there. And then there’s Royce, who is maybe(?) the axis, affecting one of the women’s lives and being affected by the other. It’s a story that moves effortlessly.

The Author
Nobel winner, Man Booker winner. It’s amazing that I haven’t read any of Alice Munro’s stories until now. Okay, maybe not since I read a lot of genre fiction and a lot of pre-1920s short stories, but still! I’m sure that “The Axis” won’t be the last.

Deal Me In, Week 51 ~ “Afternoon in Linen”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Afternoon in Linen” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: 7
From: The Lottery, and other stories

The Story
I’m finishing up the year with a couple Shirley Jackson stories. This is the first of two remaining hearts in my Deal Me In deck.

(Psst — Signup for Deal Me In 2018 is open! All you need is a deck of cards and 52 short stories. This is a challenge so easy and wonderful that I’ve managed to complete it (knock on wood) four years in a row!)

This is another story, and Shirley Jackson does them so well, about the disconnect between adults and children. Mrs. Kator and her son Howard are visiting Mrs. Lennon and her granddaughter Harriet. The story begins with Howard playing piano, slowly and carefully. He’s a good student according to Mrs. Kator, though he doesn’t like to practice and she feels he isn’t getting much out of it. Mrs. Lennon counters that Harriet seems to be naturally inclined toward music and makes up her own tunes. Mrs. Lennon is eager to have Harriet play. Harriet, though, has decided she isn’t going to. Worse, the adults then request that she recite some of the poetry that she’s written, a concept that Howard seems to find funny. “He’ll tell all the kids on the block,” Harriet keeps thinking as she denies writing any poetry at all. And often, for a kid, getting in trouble with adults is better than being strange to your peers…