Monday, October 28, 2013
Review of Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013)
The first third of Then We Take Berlin is a wonderful read. John Lawton provides an engaging introduction to John Holderness early years growing up in East London during the war, that of Nell’s in the last days of the war in Germany, and Holderness’ recruitment into military intelligence. The characterisation is keenly observed and there’s a strong sense of place and context. In the middle third of the book the narrative starts to become more bitty with many short sections charting Holderness’ time in Hamburg and then Berlin as he becomes involved in the black market and starts a relationship with Nell. The final third moves the story through the 1950s up to 1963 and Kennedy’s visit to Berlin, and Holderness’ attempt to extract someone from East Berlin. Here, the narrative is a little sketchy, Nell largely disappears from view, and it’s really not clear what Holderness’ motivations are. There is an odd and confusing timeline shift, with some scenes from 1955 inserted between the transition from 1948 to 1952 for no apparent reason, but the most disappointing aspect is the ending. The story just stops. It feels as if at least twenty odd pages are missing. The novel as a whole reads as if Lawton wasn’t sure where to take it, or quite how to deal with the twenty year span of time. This was a shame as the start was excellent and Holderness and Nell are attractive creations. It’ll be interesting to see how Lawton develops the series.