The Gap in the Curtain by John Buchan

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The Gap in the Curtain by John Buchan

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A fabulous premise builds to a disappointing story collection in this unusual but dated novel.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 240 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Polygon
ISBN: 9781846972249

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A short stay with friends in society for Sir Edward Leithen is just what he needs, being an overworked MP and lawyer. Among the collection of fellow guests, some of whom he knows and some he doesn't, is the extraordinary mind of Professor Moe, a scientist who decides to select some of the houseguests as subjects for his latest experiment. He declares that he can make sure they can see into the future, and the people he chooses – for various reasons – do indeed get a mental snatch of The Times newspaper exactly a year into their future, and what's more, one that comes completely true – either for good or bad…

The premise is brilliant, and immediately had me remembering, and expecting something like, a Priestley play. However, beyond the lengthy set-up are five stories, built into this portmanteau novel. And I dislike making predictions of my own, but seeing I found several faults, I have to report I don't expect this entry into the Buchan rerelease programme to be as popular as others.

For a start, the novel would greatly benefit from all the visions of the future being connected. Yes, some characters do leak over from one to the other, and the impact of the fictional politics are felt everywhere, but the five forecasts remain as five separate entities, when they shouldn't. The fact too that the narrator, Leithen, avoids his own premonition, is a waste. Also, the circle of the guests is too close to that of Buchan himself – diplomat, academician, politician, lawyer. The worlds of the tales are quite rarefied at this remove, especially the political one using terms that I never had heard, and bar the middle story of a young bookseller, there is little of the brightness or freshness the much more modern metaphysics of the concept leads you to expect.

The publishers serve the original very nicely, with a new introduction that declares the book has a comic edge – again, lost on me completely. I did like watching the set-up, which itself has a very unexpected consequence, and I admire the way Buchan puts his characters through diverse years until the fated day in diverse ways, but I can safely predict that in twelve months I will not be looking back on this book with any strong memories at all.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

The narrator, Leithem, had his swan-song in the much superior Sick Heart River.

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