historical novels

Manhunt in the New World in Robert Harris’s ‘Act of Oblivion’

Lee Polevoi

In Act of Oblivion, “real time” overtakes what could have been a more conventional (and time-limited) story of pursuit and capture. Years pass, people age, and some die in obscurity, rather than at the hands of the law. Harris makes readers complicit in this passage of time. We closely follow the desperate efforts by Whalley and Goffe (known more commonly as Ned and Will) to evade capture, while we’re also caught up in Nayler’s obsessive, years-long quest to apprehend them.

Ghosts and Spies Emerge From London Fog in Kate Atkinson’s ‘Transcription’

Lee Polevoi

Atkinson quickly establishes place, diction, and a credible spirit of wartime and postwar milieus—while rarely getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition. The tone in the early chapters is both keenly literary and vividly cinematic. Confusion arises, however, with a plethora of secondary characters, i.e., the German sympathizers and double agents, some of whom are being “run” by Godfrey Tobey, some by Perry (her boss). The reader might be forgiven for wondering why many of these clandestine members of the Fifth Column talk so openly about “working for Berlin” or “spying for the Gestapo” in the midst of wartime England. 

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