Chris Power’s debut novel, A Lonely Man ( Faber and Faber) gets a little tough to read in the middle due to the complexity of keeping pace with the Russian drama but as a literary construct trying to make sense of this very bizarre new world is fascinating. The clever literary device of distancing oneself from the actual action while naming very real names who have been at loggerheads with the Putin administration is very well done. It is an artifice that enables the narrator/ghostwriter to continually distance himself from the ugly world of Russian mafia and more. Yet, the unsettling ending to the novel leaves the reader gasping with the realisation that there is actually a very, very thin dividing line between reality and fiction.
Seriously, what is there not like about this debut novel. It has all the masala of a staid, boring, writer, a family man, who is pulled into telling the life story of another man, a ghostwriter. Roles are reversed and the original writer, Robert, who is facing writer’s block, suddenly recovers his writing abilities when trying to retell Patrick’s story. One that is unclear whether it is true or not but it is certainly fascinating. So while it has been established through the course of the novel that Robert himself can be prone to exaggeration while ghostwriting biographies that turned into bestsellers, it becomes increasingly hard to prove the truth of his current story. Robert claims to have been hired to ghostwrite the story of a Russian mafiosi, except that the man is discovered dead in a suspected suicide. Ever since then Robert has been on the run fearing for his life. The entire action of the plot takes place in Berlin and Sweden. Also, if one is familiar with the Russian exiles and more, as has trickled into many newspapers and documentaries, it makes this book much easier to read. But no harm done if you are unfamiliar with the names. It is just that then the reader will spend some excruciatingly distracting moments googling for the names.
This elegantly-told thriller, very gently turns a humdrum middle class reality into a sinister, dark world, and needs to be optioned for film pretty soon. Till then, read it. Enjoy it.
Update: Today, soon after, filing this short review of “A Lonely Man”, news broke that the US says Russian intelligence agencies were behind the poisoning of Alexey Navalny and will impose sanctions on multiple senior government officials.
It is at times like this that it becomes difficult to diffrentiate between truth and fiction. Alexey Navalny is one of the Russian figures mentioned in the novel, as being one of the severest critics of Putin and having to suffer consequences like many others have in the past.
1 March 2021