First things first, isn’t that just an absolute beauty of a cover? So gorgeous, it is what initially drew me to the book. And then I read the jacket copy and it made me want to puke on my shoes. “a historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can’t remember what ‘isotope’ means”. Do me a favour. That kind of self indulgent nonsense to me is the equivalent of that annoying colleague we all have who spends all day going “look how wacky I am” when in actuality, they’re a boring twat. I had a horrible feeling that reading the book would essentially be like enduring an endless Christmas party with said colleague, so I gave it a wide berth. Until now.
Egon Loeser is our hero, driven by two obsessions. The first is with his hero, the Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavinci, and his fate (the titular accident). The second is with his need to get laid, and laid by the most beautiful woman in 1930’s Berlin, Adele Hitler. These desires send Loeser out of Berlin and to LA, where history is something that happens while he is hungover and ignores it. Reading this book in public drew me some very odd looks, as it is, both often and hugely, laugh out loud funny. Beauman really knows the power of a well aimed quip and the perfectly positioned barb. He also gets some black comic mileage out of Loeser being bored by his Jewish friends back home who keep sending him really long letters about the awful time they’re having, which he can’t be bothered to read.
For me, Beauman couldn’t sustain this enjoyment across the whole novel. When it becomes mired in a whodunnit for a bit, it isn’t nearly as interesting as it thinks it is. That’s not to say when everything Beauman has spent A Very Long Time building up is artfully knocked down, that it isn’t enjoyable, it is. But I found myself being impressed with how technical and intricate he was as a writer, rather than really properly caring about anything that was happening, you know?
And the less I say about the final two or three pages, the better. It does what I call a Visit To The Goon Squad, in that it veers so spectacularly away from everything else, it almost verges on pointless. A slightly more ruthless edit would have elevated this from being funny and clever and really good, to properly great.