In brief: Will; The Wall; How to be a Dictator – reviews – The Guardian

Antwerp under the Nazis, a dystopian near-future Britain and the pathology of dictators

John Lanchester: ‘clear-eyed, clever and funny’




John Lanchester: ‘clear-eyed, clever and funny’.
Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Will

Jeroen Olyslaegers
Pushkin Press, £14.99, pp352

This urgent novel about a policeman navigating the darkness of German-occupied Antwerp in the second world war won a number of Dutch literature prizes in 2017, and David Colmer’s gripping translation reveals why. Written in flashback as Will tells his story many years later, it constantly grapples with what the ordinary man might do when faced with a horror so huge that to resist might threaten his very survival. Olyslaegers bravely explores moral compromise, betrayal and collaboration – and throws our polarised times into sharp relief.

The Wall

John Lanchester
Faber, £8.99, pp288

The Wall might not be the most talked about dystopia on this year’s Booker longlist – that accolade goes to Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale – but it’s just as relevant and, ultimately, worrying. Kavanagh is on quasi-national service, standing guard on a giant cold concrete wall around the British coastline. Our introduction to him is Lanchester at his finest; clear-eyed, clever and funny.

This early promise isn’t quite fulfilled – the world doesn’t seem fully drawn, somehow – but there’s still so much to ponder here, especially in the pitiless take-down of “the Olds” who messed up these young people’s lives with their decisions. Lanchester’s chilling world feels like a stark, exasperated warning.

How to Be a Dictator

Frank Dikötter
Bloomsbury, £25, pp304

Dutch historian Frank Dikötter goes on a whistlestop tour of some of the most infamous leaders of the 20th century, from Mussolini to Mengistu, Kim Il-sung to Ceausescu and, obviously, stopping off at Hitler and Stalin. Whether these pen portraits offer new insight isn’t the point; what Dikötter does so well is to find the pathological and ideological connections among leaders who “teetered between hubris and paranoia”.

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