Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
By Tim Finch. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 304 pages. $26
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Tim Finch invites us into a seemingly well-intentioned refuge for exiled writers in his debut novel, “The House of Journalists.” The time we spend there with the refugees of vague origin, though uncomfortable, is invaluable.
Finch’s vast vocabulary and various voices force the reader to savor rather than devour the rich unfolding of political and social intrigue blending with the interspersed narratives of torture and loss. Though many including Finch himself cite flashes of Kafka in his prose, I noted the precision of Joseph Conrad in the stories of the refugees, and the ironic subtleties of Neil Gaiman in the internal monologues of those in power at “The House.”
“The House of Journalists” begins slowly with perfunctory exposition, but keep reading. Finch has far more in store for the reader than he lets on in the beginning. What hints to be a collection of tales meant to elicit pathos becomes an indictment of all sides of the theories and ideologies that drive international diplomacy, yet never an indictment of the people involved.
Indeed, the stories of crushed bodies, demoralized spirits and unspeakable isolation coming as dramatic monologues in haunting voices remind us of the human passion often snuffed out of the philanthropic and political spin. Refugees Mustapha, Agnes, Adom, (yes with an ‘o’) and Marie-Antoinette live under the protection of Julian and the founder of “The House,” Stan, himself an exile of a political coup.
When the aged and foul-mouthed writer Edward Crumb comes to deliver a lecture, Finch takes the novel from mediocrity to brilliance. I found myself on uncertain ground. Were the refugees being honest or were they making up tales to achieve political status in Great Britain? Did Julian really care about the exiles or was he simply after the power of control and image? Most importantly, who is the elusive A.A. silently lurking about the house addressed in the second person?
The narrator asserts in the final pages of “The House of Journalists” that “ideologies and political theories fail when leaders fail.” True or not, Tim Finch does not fail to deliver a novel worth reading twice, once for the story and again for the language itself.
Weather JournalMidday update: More ice likely later