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An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

by euclid 

Posted: 07 May 2015
Word Count: 177
Summary: Brilliant book - more history than fiction

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This is the story of Alfred Dreyfus, an officer in the French Army who, in 1894, was falsely accused of treason and sent to Devil's Island. Dreyfus was a Jew, which explains - at least in part - why he fell foul of the justice system in France.
Robert Harris never fails to amaze me. I have devoured all but one of his novels as well as his non-fiction "Selling Hitler". What amazes me most is his scholarship, his capacity for hard work and attention to detail, and his literary prowess. Historical fiction comes in various flavours: on a spectrum from fictionalised pure history to pure fiction set against a historical background. We might also include many works of pure fantasy that contain vestiges of historical echoes. As a work of alternative history, Fatherland sits at the fantastical end of the spectrum; An Officer and a Spy sits firmly at the other end. This is pure historical journalism imbued with fiction to bring the story to life for the modern reader. The book is a triumph.


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Comments by other Members

TassieDevil at 11:27 on 07 May 2015  Report this post
Thanks for this review JJ,
Historical fiction has always fascinated me and you've highlighted the spectrum here. For me I accept what is written as historically accurate, otherwise I'd need to check the facts myself and that would defeat the point of an entertaining read. I do try to check facts in my own writing but to find out that writers like Harris have done all the hard, accurate work makes his work more apealing to someone like myself.
Obviously being an historical author yourself, such a writer would appeal even more. You're obviously a fan.
Excellent review with the right balance of objectivity and personal appraisal.

euclid at 08:59 on 08 May 2015  Report this post
Yes, Alan,

I have almost all of Harris's books. He wrote 3 set in ancient Rome. I found the first one (Imperium) boring so didn't bother with the other two. But I have copies of everything else that he's written.

He is a true master of historical fiction, probably more of a historian than a spinner of yarns, but he brings history to life like no one else that I have read.


Bazz at 21:28 on 12 May 2015  Report this post
Great review JJ. Don't think i've heard of Robert Harris, but he sounds like a great writer, who really brings history alive. It's not a genre i've really looked at, but your review makes it, and the skill gone into it, sound very compelling...

euclid at 21:49 on 12 May 2015  Report this post
Can't believe you've never heard of Robert Harris!

You should try him.

His first book, Fatherland, is a famous best seller. It's an alternative history where the Nazis won the war and have set up their administration in London. After that, we have Enigma - fiction about Bletchley Park, Archangel, which is set in Russia after the death of Stalin, Pompei about the volcano, Ghost about a writer working on the PM's autobiography (Not his best work) 3 books set in ancient Rome, etc. An Officer and a Spy is probably his best book.


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