Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar, review: 'weird, upsetting, unmissable'

It is proving to be the season for Holocaust novels that sidle up to their subject crabwise rather than with the head-on bull charge of a Schindler’s Ark, evoking icy laughter rather than racking sobs. A Man Lies Dreaming, by the Israeli-born novelist Lavie Tidhar, has not been published with the fanfare bestowed on Martin Amis’s The Zone of Interest or Howard Jacobson’s J, but it is their equal for savage humour. Tidhar’s usual modus operandi, most notably deployed in his prize-winning 2011 novel Osama, is to examine the defining moments of modern history by recasting them as pastiche noir fiction, inhabiting a space somewhere between counterfactualism and fantasy. A Man Lies Dreaming begins in the seedy Soho of 1939 where a German immigrant called Wolf grimly plies his trade as a private eye. Wolf was once a prominent far-right politician in Germany, but his party has been broken up and he has come to London to escape internment by the Communist government. He is now trying to forget about his previous existence, even going so far as to shave off his distinctive moustache. Those who enjoy laughter in the dark will relish Tidhar’s parade of mordant ironies. Leni Riefenstahl, also forced to flee Germany, pops up to tell Wolf that she has hit paydirt and is heading for Hollywood to make a film of The Great Gatsby with Humphrey Bogart (“'We’ll always have Nuremberg, won’t we, Wolf?’”). Sir Oswald Mosley is cruising to electoral victory after whipping up and riding a wave of antagonism towards the right-wing Germans asylum seekers, despite the fact that they are his political allies. And the CIA tell Wolf they’ll back his return to Germany: the Reds out at any price. What makes the novel something more than a compendium of enjoyably sick jokes is a framing device that only gradually becomes apparent to the reader. This Hitler-as-private-eye alternative reality turns out to be the daydream of a man living very much in reality as we know it: Shomer, a crime writer who is an inmate of Auschwitz. He is spinning this fantasy not to escape from his present situation but to avoid the treacherous habit of thinking about his past, about his murdered family: “He is angry at them not for leaving him but for coming back. They come from a world that no longer exists and has no right to intrude upon his present.” The Wolf narrative is merely a story within a story, then, and yet it succeeds as an excellent example of pulp fiction in its own right, with a plot of Chandleresque over-complication, involving a missing Jewish-READ MORE-

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