Reconciliation, the second novel by Byte the Book member Guy Ware, is a page-turning quest to uncover the real story of the family spy; a story that rewrites both past and present.
Reconciliation takes the transcript of a diary from the Second World War, written by an English spy describing his deliverance from occupied Norway, and creates a delightfully playful novel about the difficulties of accounting for past and present, fact and fiction, in national and individual identity. Set in the 1990s during the Iraq war as well as the 1940s, one woman’s grandfather’s diary becomes the subject of several different retellings and reframings that never quite seem to grasp the skirts of truth, constantly questioning a reader’s grasp of authenticity and our desire for fiction to say something true.
The novel feels wildly relevant, questioning the wisdom of all governance and the clarity of individual allegiance to a political ideology. It forces us to accept a reconciliation between history as fact and history as interpretation. Some things we can only ever speculate upon, but speculation is attempted empathy, a compromise that allows us to move on.
Because the novel progresses from one seemingly authentic account of the transcript’s discovery and subsequent exploration to another, we are forced to continue to question our expectations of narrative. Outlining the plot would spoil the novel, but let’s just say there is enough intrigue in the past and present, as well as a thoroughly forensic exploration of the minutiae of daily living – the reheated ready meals, the workplace banter, a clear vision of Scotland, Norway, Cambridge and London, as well as plenty of whisky – to create a page-turning novel that has the reader constantly on the hop. That’s what makes it such a delight. You’re never quite sure where you are, and yet all of it feels relevant, meaningful and real. Literary critics would have a field day with this novel, despite it also being a book you would be happy to read in one sitting on a long journey or tucked up in a comfy chair by a warm fire.
Nicholas Lezard called Guy Ware’s previous novel, The Fat of Fed Beasts, ‘The best debut novel I have read in years’. Reconciliation consolidates Guy Ware’s reputation as a writer whose observations of modern life are witty, precise and provocative. It’s brilliant. Read it and see for yourself.