Adrian Graham

The Second Sleep book cover, people riding horses in silhouette

The Second Sleep

I enjoyed reading The Second Sleep, the 2019 novel by Robert Harris. The Second Sleep was cheated out of wider recognition, because it was published during a pandemic year. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel (this reveal occurs early in the story). It’s a mystery novel. The story is nicely crafted. It feels like a nice high to end my journey into post-apocalyptic fiction for this year.

James Clavell’s historical novels

Shōgun (1975), and Tai-Pan (1966) are probably James Clavell at his historical fiction best. Gai-Jin is well written but the story is slightly disappointing being mostly set in a European trading camp in Japan (without much change of location) and featuring characters who lack a satisfying story arc. The magic, in my experience, of Clavell’s historical fiction doesn’t seem to translate into his novel’s that are set in the contemporary world. Noble House, and Whirlwind feel like dated 1970s thrillers.

As a writer, it seems like you can get away with a lot more in historical fiction (with suspension of disbelief, etc) than you can with a thriller set in the present day. This is important part of what makes historical fiction such fun.

King Rat (1962) is Clavell’s best novel. The story combines his rapid point of view switching (a technique that seems less popular these days) with his incredible precision for describing the inner world of his characters. I read it without much expectation, but it is great. The story is set in a Second World War prisoner of war camp. The format switches between the POWs and their loved ones at home. The prison (POW) story shares many of its tropes with horror and post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a group in peril story about the end of things. It’s about raw survival. The trauma of defeat and incarceration results in a new order, one in which the old world is temporarily displaced. The book was published in 1962, and set in a WW2 POW camp, so it’s not going to be on-message 2021 ‘woke’, nonetheless it has some remarkable scenes about gender fluidity that I found quite moving. The conflicts are handled well and feel genuine. Great drama isn’t just about two people arguing – it’s about the clash of world views.


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