Monday, 29 August 2011
X is for XAVIER MARCH
If you’re reading this blog there’s a high chance you’re interested in alternative history. If you’re interested in alternative history then there’s an even higher chance you’re read Robert Harris’s Fatherland. In my opinion it’s the apogee of the genre and a damn fine thriller to boot.
(As a quick aside, I should say a word about alternative history. The ‘definitive’ novel of the genre is The Man in the High Castle and it’s noteworthy that this is a work of science fiction. Purists would argue that Fatherland isn’t really alternative history, only its milieu is. I tend to agree – which is why I see Afrika Reich as foremost a thriller, not alternative history.)
One of the reasons Fatherland is such a satisfying read is because of the main character: XAVIER MARCH, an investigator with Berlin’s criminal police (and a God send for author’s writing A-Zs and wondering what they’ll do with those tricky last letters of the alphabet). It was a lesson for me. If Afrika Reich was going to succeed beyond the setting and plot, the characters would have to be people readers cared for.
That said, there’s no Xavier March equivalent in my book. March is a more morally straightforward character than
. Although a member of the SS, he’s motivated by a desire to know the truth about the world he lives in, and uncovering corruption and murder at the heart of the Reich. In many ways he’s a crusader. Burton Burton’s motives are entirely personal; he’s indifferent to the Nazis’ plans for Africa apart from when they intersect his individual needs. As I once said to my editor: ‘the bad guys are bad, but the good guys aren’t necessarily good’. I’ll come back to this subject in ‘E is for...’.
Returning to Fatherland, in essence it’s a crime thriller, you could even go so far as to say a whodunit. Harris’s book followed in the tradition of Len Deighton’s SS-GB which is an espionage thriller. It occurred to me that the victorious Third Reich element of these books (although intrinsic to the plot) is a backdrop to variations on thriller. Since the crime and spy sub-genre had already been done, I wanted to do something fresh with Afrika Reich – hence the reason I chose to make it an action/adventure thriller, more of which next time...
PS – just in case you’re wondering why I’ve included a picture of Rutger Hauer here dressed in black, he played Xavier March in the HBO adaptation of the novel.