Microviews Vol. 48: In By A Frenchman's Whisker

on Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Back in January I promised to review every book that I read this year. I thought I'd finished when I closed Rivers, a great book on which to end the challenge. Unfortunately, I couldn't resist. Two more days... surely there was time to read one more. And so I bring you this final blip on the radar, a lonely island, a single white flag flapping in the wind. What can I say? A promise is a promise.

An Officer And A Spy by Robert Harris
Along with Terry Pratchett, Robert Harris has long been one of my guilty pleasures. Fatherland still stands as my favourite thriller of all time as well as the best "What If?" novel I know. Engima was also a really cool take on a very exciting moment in military history. The Roman novels aren't exactly my thing, but as works of historical fiction they tower above most others. Bottom line - this guy knows how to write his way into history. Who better, then, to write the 'definitive' fictionalisation of the Dreyfus affair? There's something of The Titanic in this sort of venture. We all know how it ends. We know many of the characters. We know many of the details. And, of course, we all know Zola's classic full page indictment on the French military and judicial systems, J'Accuse. Harris comes at the story from the perspective of one of its middle tier players, Colonel Georges Picquart. Instrumental, albeit unwittingly, in the initial frame up of Alfred Dreyfus, his subsequent promotion to head of the military intelligence unit allows him to revisit the case and discover to his horror not only that Dreyfus was innocent but that the real villain had escaped any sort of justice. All of this is nothing new, but Harris creates such an incredible atmosphere of anti-semitism, conspiracy, arse-covering and downright arrogance amongst the upper echelons of the French military that the book left me seething with incredulity that they could ever have gotten away with it. Picquart was the perfect choice to tell the tale. He was, ultimately, on the side of truth and justice but he was also part of the machine that allowed it to happen. For him to be caught up and crushed in its cogs when he tries to expose the truth demonstrates the very fickle nature of power. An Officer And A Spy is a wonderful book and while it may not exactly be high literature it is a heady lesson in the feeble nature of powerful people caught in their own traps.
4 Out Of 5 Broken Sabres


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