The Hidden by Tobias Hill

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The Hidden by Tobias Hill

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A haunting look at the need to belong, the fragile nature of secrets, and the relationship between past history and modern conflict. Utterly absorbing and beautifully written.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Faber
ISBN: 0571218385

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Ben Mercer is an Oxford archaeologist whose life his falling apart. His wife has left him for an older man and he is missing his young daughter terribly. Mixed in with his hurt is a sense of regret, but he's not being open with himself - or the reader - about exactly what that regret is. So Ben escapes to Greece and joins a dig in Sparta. The social hierarchy is split between Greeks and foreigners, and Ben, always on the outside, wants in with the foreigners clique. But they aren't welcoming, and the Greeks on the site warn him off. They play games, it's said, and the games aren't nice.

I loved The Hidden. It's beautifully written; lyrical, thoughtful and relatively slow-moving, despite the thriller aspect of the plotting. The Greek setting is vividly described with Hill's sensual eye for mood and detail. Ben, with all the chips on his shoulder, is a sympathetic character. His weaknesses don't make you dislike him; they make you think about the skeletons in your own cupboard, and we've all got them. It's not nice to be an outsider and we all crave acceptance. We all make mistakes as we search for it, and sometimes those mistakes up and bite us on the behind.

The main narrative is broken up by Ben's notes for a thesis on the Spartans - a ruthless, pitiless people, whose secrets died with them. They disdained to share them by writing them down. These notes set out the main theme of the book, which is that secrets rarely remain buried. One way or another, they will out: Ben's, the clique's, even ancient Sparta's, as archaeologists beaver away on their excavations.

The slow pace doesn't detract from the tension. In fact, the claustrophobic relationships add to one's sense of foreboding and I finished the book with that very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach - the one you get when your own dirty laundry is about to go public. The Hidden comes highly recommended by Bookbag. It's elegant, flowing and sometimes utterly savage.

My thanks to the nice people at Faber for sending the book.

You might also want to look at Swimming to Ithaca by Simon Mawer. For some reason, although I'm not quite sure exactly why, I think you may also enjoy Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith may also appeal.

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Buy The Hidden by Tobias Hill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Hidden by Tobias Hill at


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