Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Spies of Warsaw

I've just finished Alan Furst's The Spies of Warsaw, a work of historical fiction set between the wars.

My response to this book was mixed. On the one hand, you can't go wrong with the interwar period, particularly in Europe: it's the perfect backdrop for a novel involving espionage, diplomacy, and yes, romance.

To a certain extent, Furst is successful is his use of this backdrop: his characters are interesting (or interesting enough) and a few of them engage in meaningful musings on history and the events leading to 1939.

Despite the praise heaped on this book by critics like Jonathan Yardley, I ultimately found it to be a novel in search of itself. Furst follows a number of a plot twists toward something approaching a climax, but when this climax comes, it's doesn't pack the punch that we might expect after more than 200 pages of intrigue.

In addition, there was something, I felt, that was contrived about Furst's book: it's tricky work, I recognize, to successfully integrate historical realities into fiction, but there were moments in this novel that Furst's characters spoke in a way that was too didactic, too instructive - as if Furst were offering his readers the background they would need to fully appreciate the dialogue he'd constructed.

Perhaps this is necessary, but there are other writers - including Hilary Mantel, whose work immediately comes to mind here - who weave the past into their narratives in a manner far more effective (and seamless) than does Furst.

Still, this was a fun book to read, and I credit Furst with getting a least part of the way toward evoking the energy - and anxiety - of that tremendous period of global history.

1 comment:

  1. A friend who knows a great deal about that part of the world enjoys Furst's books, but finds them full of distracting errors of detail.