Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Len Deighton: Winter (1987)

Edition: Grafton, 1988 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1255

After the phenomenal success of the first trilogy of Bernard Samson novels, Deighton wrote Winter as a sort of prequel. "Sort of" because it doesn't actually involve many of the characters from the trilogy - being mainly about their parents and grand parents during the first half of the twentieth century - and has a very different focus - it is really about the rise of Hitler. This is Deighton's attempt to explain just why so many Germans came to support the Nazis.

The plot is more a family saga than a thriller; two brothers, who grow up close but are divided later when one is caught up by the Nazi bandwagon while the other marries a Jew and plays the piano for Brecht and Weill. While Deighton really has nothing new to say about the early days of National Socialism, which must be one of the most closely studied parts of twentieth century political history, the story of the Winter brothers illuminates the history and makes it personal; they are exactly the sort of well drawn, well placed fictional characters which are a part of many good historical novels. And that is really what Winter is - an excellent historical novel, not a thriller. It's closest companion in Deighton's work is the alternative history SS-GB, but it is also like his Second World War novels Bomber and Goodbye Mickey Mouse in that its purpose is to put well realised imaginary characters in immaculately researched historical settings. Of all these four novels, Winter is the most successful, the Winter brothers being two of the best written characters in all of Deighton's output. Winter is by a large margin Deighton's longest novel, but it is definitely worth the read.

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