(2012) Jake Arnott, Sceptre (imprint of Hodder), £17.99, hrdbk, 403pp,
This novel begins with a science fiction writer Larry Zagorski looking back over his life and his first love in the 1940s before America entered the Second World War. From this point, the narrative moves back and forward in time. The character viewpoint moves from Ian Fleming to Rudolph Hess, to others caught up in movements or trying to adjust to life post-war or post revolution. Arnott is able to successfully capture the voices of a diverse cast as they move through history. While Zagorski is the figure whose life is covered in the most detail, through him we gain the connections to the other characters in the novel through letters, friends, passed documents and stories.
This is not a narrative about fantastical events happening to the characters. This is a novel about what fantasies and beliefs mean to people. British intelligence plans campaigns to influence Rudolph Hess. The idea of the flying saucers enters the public imagination, inspiring conspiracies to fascinate paranoid rock stars. Arnett does include references to other works of fiction and authors, such as Jorge Luis Borges. It is easy thing to miss but Zagorskiís fictional work is plausible with the development of science-fiction and the changes in the movements through the decades. You feel as if he and his work could have existed.
In the frontispiece of the book, Arnott has a quote from Ovid describing what the House of Rumour is. A tower where Rumour lives, seeing and hearing all, peopled by crowds passing on and embellishing and adding to what they hear. This is why the narrative moves back and forth, with the changing character viewpoints. These are told in flashbacks, diary entries, second person, and articles. The stories within in stories style, fits in with the premise of the title. Because stories and ideas and beliefs are passed on or reinterpreted, if not they will just fade into silence. Yet, these are what inspire us.
Ultimately the House of Rumour is one of those novels that does make you think about what science-fiction and belief means, and how it affects the way we see the world. This is an impressive novel and one which I am happy to recommend.
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