A classified paper falls into the hands of a transvestite prostitute in the late 80s. Penned by a retired government spy, the document narrates a secret operation to lure Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s second in command, out of Germany using black magic and astrology.
So it begins…
“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
“The House of Rumour” is an elaborate mesh of affairs that will have you wondering where the history lesson ends, where the fiction begins and where, if not from the very beginning, they become one and the same.
There is no plot per se, but there is more than enough happening, all wrapped up in a document that appears to somehow permeate, in many different shapes and forms, the lives of the numerous individuals that inhabit this book.
“That’s all magic has to be, Marius. A psychological effect. If you believe in something, it has power over you.”
Jake Arnott is a skilful writer, his prose clear of artefacts that instead grow into full-bodied characters beyond the page. The structure of the novel itself, twenty two chapters that follow the twenty two trumps of the tarot deck. It evokes not only the concept of occult, but also of interpretation.
A novel that finds its foundations in deceit, “The House of Rumour” is populated by well-known names such as Ian Fleming, Aleister Crowley, Robert A. Heinlein, Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard.
“There is an art to forgetting. History soon becomes dementia, a babble of voices clamouring to be heard. One has to have a selective memory to make any sense of the past. To forget is a cautious act of the will, more the gaining of a faculty than the loss of one.”
Fascinating, charming, at times heartbreakingly beautiful, different points of view connect dots across time and space. It’s a journey through historical turning points that beat the six degrees of separation at its own game. Through the Nuremberg Trials, the Cold War, the Cuban Revolution and the Moon Landing, Jake Arnott creates a flow of energy that seems to develop into a reassuring constant that generates a sense of possibility, of veracity.
“If you can’t change the world, build a spaceship.”
Without a doubt an ambitious project, “The House of Rumour” never quite seems to overcome, to break its own bold constraints. An entertaining challenge, an enlightening experience, it will take you as far as you are willing to go, to let go.
“Nevertheless we cherish all books, especially the unread ones, for who knows what secrets they might yield one day?”
Nothing is what it seems. Rumours manipulate, but are also easily manipulated. A consort of thought-provoking beginnings that find no particular ending, an engaging novel that could have been a brilliant collection of short stories.
If you enjoyed “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, “The House of Rumour” might just be the kind of narrative you have been looking for.
December's Book Club pick is "Walking Wounded" – by author Sheila Llewellyn and can be picked up on Second Floor Reception.