Magazine article The Spectator

Trapped in His Own Tangled Web

Magazine article The Spectator

Trapped in His Own Tangled Web

Article excerpt

SEVEN LIES by James Lasdun Cape, £12.99, pp. 199, ISBN 0224075926 . £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

At the outset of James Lasdun's fine new novel, Seven Lies, the narrator is approached by an unknown woman at a smart party in New York, who asks, 'Excuse me, are you Stefan Vogel?' When he confirms that he is, she throws a glass of red wine at him, 'its ruby hemisphere exploding from the glass into elongated fingers like those of some ghastly accusatory hand'.

Vogel is supposed to be a poet from the former East Germany, who left in 1986 with his wife, 'purchased ... for two truckloads of grade B Seville oranges' in a shady deal between his Uncle Heinrich, 'senior counsel at the office of the Chief of the People's Police', and the West German government via the Protestant Church. But Stefan knows that he is not what he seems and he has a 'desire to exorcise the past'. What follows is a gradual, elegant unpacking of the 'lies' which lead to the outrage with the wine and the novel's desperate conclusion. Vividly, and with remarkable brevity, Lasdun recreates the GDR in its last years:

crawling with cynics, informants and time-servers, it is a place where tawdriness and corruption have become so institutionalised that Stefan is not surprised to find himself turning into what he is ridiculed for being. It is not so much the state as society itself whose insidious pressures lay hold on Stefan and his family, and so tenaciously that even the promised land of America proves to be only a temporary escape. …

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