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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A master at work

Image result for harris officer spyI brought "An Officer and a Spy" home from the library because I have read most of Robert Harris's books and invariably enjoyed them. That said, I was sceptical about this one because it was clearly based on the Dreyfus affair which I had some knowledge of and which didn't strike me as being likely material for a riveting read; educational certainly, but not riveting. How wrong I was! I was gripped from the outset and, though I knew what the outcome would be, I wanted to see how the thing worked itself out. 

Harris is a consummate story teller and in this book (as in others he has written) he deploys a large cast of characters without ever confusing the reader. His characters are convincingly described and we glimpse something of the psychology which underlies their presentation to the world and their behaviour. It feels to me that Harris's descriptions of late Nineteenth Century French society, and of Paris in particular, are authentic - clearly a great deal of research has been done which shows itself in a telling detail clinching the experience for the reader. This could easily have been a dry account of a notorious episode in French history, but in Harris's hands it becomes a high class thriller. And something more, because the author conveys the potentially corrupting power of fanaticism (hatred of 'the other') both for the individual and for the masses - a sobering and appropriate lesson for our times.

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