Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

The safest way to write a diary was to imagine Stalin reading every word.

For people who aren't aware of the Stalinist regime this sentence might not be of much interest. For those who are aware of this demented history and it's leading demented historical figure, this statement will be obvious. On a story level, this sentence does a couple of things. It establishes setting and introduces conflict. Anyone interested in the period will be hooked. Nevertheless, a story problem begins to emerge by page two.

Next sentence:

Even exercising this degree of caution there was the risk of a slipped phrase, accidental ambiguity - a misunderstood sentence.

This reminds me of a story told by a Soviet official (perhaps Krushchev) after Stalin was dead and the thaw had begun. "If you looked directly at Stalin, he thought you were challenging him. If you looked away, he thought you were hiding something."

The beginning of this novel accurately captures the conundrum people living in that time and place were in: Praise might be mistaken for mockery, sincere adulation taken for parody.

First thing said (I think - as quotation marks are not used to identify dialogue, italics are.):

"The diary says nothing."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

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