Lead Review (the Cameraman)

  • Book: The Cameraman
  • Location: Europe
  • Author: Matthew Kneale

Review Author: Tina Hartas



The novel is set in the1930s, as Europe is edging towards war. Julius Sewell was a cameraman on the film Waltzing in Warsaw, but at some point he skewered himself in the stomach with a penknife – on purpose. This event led to his incarceration in a psychiatric facility in Wales, fully supported by his mother and stepfather.

Deemed fit to re-enter the world, he is scooped up by his family and required to join them on a car journey through Europe, down to Rome, where his sister Lou will be marrying a fascist sympathiser. He is entreated to save her from this doomed and ill-considered marriage. Once in the car, cheek by jowl with others (in fact forming a different sort of incarceration), he begins to understand that he is a lone voice amongst a party of paid-up members of the English BUF – Oswald Mosley’s lot – who all seem keen to head on a mission to Munich, where they hope to have a chance encounter with the man of the moment rising to prominence in Germany. And then on to Rome with the hope of meeting Mussolini.

A visit to learn about Dachau leaves a very bitter taste in Julius’ mouth but he discovers that he has been slipped a note which must get to the Manchester Guardian, presumably detailing the terrible conditions of the ‘Bolsheviks’ held in captivity in the camp (he can’t read the language, so is unsure of the content, but what he does know is that it is an urgent missive). He is determined to comply but events thwart him at every turn, as his fellow passengers plough through Austria, smuggling copies of the illegal National Socialist newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, then heading to Venice.

The story is told with interspersed italicised thoughts, forming the inner workings of Julius’ mind, which act as a running commentary on his adventures. He allows himself to be influenced by the Predictor, which ensures a positive outcome to anything he may wish to undertake. This is counterbalanced by the Other, which serves to inhibit a smooth end result.

This is a curious and engaging tale, told with wry humour, as these hapless but determined motorists, with a mission in mind, continue down through Europe to Rome. A dog runs into their car and dear old Maude mistakes the term pazzo for the dog’s name (it actually means mad in Italian and his owner was gesticulating, using pazzo as an expletive). The dog joins them as they head for Venice and then, finally, Rome, where Julius is on the quest to deter his sister from marrying the dreaded Mussolini acolyte. As the journey progresses, we see how earnest his endeavours are to do the right thing, but invariably he still cannot fully read societal mores and therefore can come across as quite awkward.

A rounding off of the story in a shortish chapter brings the book to a slightly juddering end – a whole story in itself is shovelled into the final chapter comprising 11 pages – but overall this novel has a nice pace and I enjoyed it.

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