A Man Lies Dreaming

Written by Lavie Tidhar

Review written by Katherine Armstrong

Katherine Armstrong has worked in publishing for over six years. She is a crime fiction Editor for an independent publishing company in London.

A Man Lies Dreaming
RRP: £18.99
Released: October 23, 2014

A Man Lies Dreaming is a disconcerting read.

It begins like a typical hardboiled novel with a ‘broad’ coming to the detective’s office and asking him to find her missing sister and continues in the traditional vein; except for flashes that all is not what it seems in this narrative. The prose revels in the cadence of the hardboiled vernacular: it’s slangy, brutish and pays particular attention to bodily functions, swearing and violence. This is not an easy read, mainly due to its subject matter.

Wolf, the PI hired to find Judith Rubenstein by her sister, the beautiful and sultry Isabella, fled to London from Germany in 1933 after the collapse of Fascism and the rise of Communism. He used to be somebody – he used to rule – but now he’s just Wolf, another nobody with dreams of grandeur trying to get by on the rough streets of London. Lavie Tidhar does not shy away from showing Wolf and his ‘friends’ in all their anti-semitic glory. These are Nazis and their language reflects their bigotry and hatred. What Tidhar does well is to condemn them using their own speeches and hypocrasies against them and it becomes uncomfortable reading at times. You know who Wolf really is but it’s only at the end that his full name is mentioned. Yet Tidhar manages to make him vulnerable and sympathetic while, at the same time, alienating him from the reader by having him unleash diatribes against Jews, women and gays.

What makes this not just another pastiche of hardboiled noir, is the realisation as you read it that Wolf and his London exists only in the mind of a Jewish writer, Shomer, who is a prisoner in Auschwitz. Tidhar juxtaposes the harsh realities of the camp with the harsh realities of Wolf’s world and yet there are flashes of humour here too, and Wolf – like Marlowe and Spade before him – takes several beatings, which he somehow manages to walk away from.

A Man Lies Dreaming is a novel that deliberately sets out to make the reader uncomfortable. The 1930s London that Tidhar portrays is troublingly close to today’s capital as debates about immigration rage and Oswald Mosley, wine in one hand, ballot paper in the other, looks poised to take power. This is a novel that is provocative and imaginative and reminds us that even the worst people are neither all bad nor all good.

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