Saturday, 17 October 2009

"The Hidden" by Tobias Hill

I read and enjoyed Hill's 2003 (I think) novel The Cryptographer, which I thought was a quite dazzling work, taking what seemed to be starting out as a straight up and down thriller and moving it into totally new territory.

It was cultured and cheeky. The central character was a billionaire called John Law, who did not (as many believe) invent paper money, but did invent securitisation and destroy the French economy in the process. There were knowledgeable references to The Wasteland, particularly the lines about banks.

It also suggested that it was possible to move seamlessly between the worlds of humans and computers. There was mention of a computer virus that could kill humans, for example.

It was a book that is impossible to classify. Serious novel? Thriller? Science fiction? In truth, probably a combination of all three. I remember being left in no doubt that here was a truly original voice.

The Hidden is a different sort of novel entirely. Telling the story of a young man who goes to Greece and finds himself getting drawn into some strange goings-on involving two attractive but mysterious women, I was reminded very strongly of The Magus. I don't know whether this was a conscious influence on Hill, but it kept coming back to me as I read this book.

Like The Magus, this is a novel which keeps you constantly guessing on what level reality is operating, and just what might be "reality" after all. Certainly poor old Ben, the central character, always seems to be at least one step behind.

This is a much more intimate novel than The Cryptographer, or at least operates on a more initimate level. The book is well written, though I found the revolutionary punctuation unsettling. I thought that perhaps I would get used to this as the book progressed, but I never did, and I think it spoilt it a little for me. It was also puzzling, as it did not seem to add anything. What does the author have against direct speech? Unless there is a very good reason for doing so, I cannot see any good reason to depart from accepted norms; it just gets in the way of the reader losing themself in the book.

Tobias Hill is clearly a very fine writer, and I did enjoy this book. I thought the ending in particular worked very well, and would work perhaps even better as a film. I do urge you to read this book, despite the strange punctuation.

"The Hidden" is published by Faber and Faber under ISBN 9780571218387

No comments: