Return to Appreciating Literature
AN OFFICER AND A SPY by Robert Harris.
Everyone is aware that the Dreyfus Affair was a miscarriage of justice and therefore a serious blot on France's history, but it is probably true to say that none of us really knew the details. Robert Harris has produced a novel that is so true to the real characters and the events that it is almost a documentary positing the question not if something took place but how it managed to take place. We unanimously praised the author for his attention to detail but there were inevitably a lot of strands to this very complex story which suggests a second reading would be beneficial.
There was a great deal of dialogue, starting with the first sentence, which gave the sense of immediacy, placing the reader right in the story. Dreyfus was not really the central character. That fell to Colonel Picquart and without whom the Dreyfus affair would never have come to light. We all enjoyed the way the author told the story precisely as it unfolded before Picquart's eyes. Single-handedly and doggedly Picquart unravelled the layers of corruption and silence that lay in the war ministry while they tried to cover up the whole affair during a period of rife anti-semitic tendencies in France where it was considered unimportant if the scape goat was Jewish. This is not to say that Picquart was without anti-semitic feelings but his sense of what was morally right was stronger.
The Dreyfus Affair was full of intrigue and this could have resulted in a daunting and muddled book, but the author's clear and well-constructed story full of interesting details and relevant documents, immerses the reader in the case. I think we all felt this was a monumental achievement by Robert Harris.