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Novel set in Wilmslow and Bletchley (the Death and Life of Alan Turing…)

29th June 2015

Fall of Man in Wilmslow (the Death and Life of Alan Turing) – novel set in Wilmslow and Bletchley, written by David Lagercrantz and translated by George Goulding.

IMG_1258David Lagercrantz is an extremely interesting author. He wrote the Fall of Man in Wilmslow in 2009, many years before the 2014 film of Alan Turing’s life, The Imitation Game (though I would suspect that this quite excellent translation from the original Swedish by George Goulding was timed to pick up on the film’s success). A perhaps strange subject for a non-Brit? Then in 2013 he ghosted the best selling autobiography of footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic – I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and later this year is scheduled to publish his just written The Girl In The Spider’s Web, the fourth book in Stieg Larsson’s unfinished Millennium sequence. Quite a range of genres!

Fall of Man in Wilmslow is a novel, more than loosely based on Alan Turing’s death and life. What really is striking is that the book captures so well the paranoia of the time (Turing killed himself in 1953) towards both homosexuals and communists. Turing was not a communist, but he was suspected of being one because of his homosexuality. The paranoia, of course, came from the adventures of 1930s Oxford – featuring, amongst others, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. They were homosexual and had turned into Soviet spies – why wouldn’t Turing as well?

The book is a curious, but successful, mix. It is part detective novel… Leonard Correll is a young policeman in Wilmslow who investigates the open and shut suicide case. He becomes intrigued by Alan Turing and begins to probe deeper. He follows his investigations through to Oxford (to meet some of the players in Turing’s life) and to Bletchley Park where Turing worked on the successful cracking of the German Enigma Code. He encounters MI5 and other personnel who are keen on him not finding out too much about what is still a project with high security clearance. On another level it is a book about Mathematics and Logic. And, what is quite brilliant, is that Lagercrantz – presumably very ably abetted by Goulding – manages to explain concepts like The Liar’s Paradox in a way that is quite understandable to mere mortals. You really feel you appreciate the mathematical issues that Turing was struggling with as he developed the machine he would use to crack the Code. And the third level is that of social commentary. It is about a time 60 years ago, and the book does not make one particularly proud to be British – the persecution and treatment of homosexuals was both cruel and degrading for society. We have come a long way in the past half century…

All in all an excellent and thought provoking book. And it will be interesting to see whether Lagercrantz’s ability to simplify and explain complicated concepts will carry forward into his Stieg Larsson continuation novel. If so, it should be an excellent read.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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