Sceptre £17.99

The House of Rumour, By Jake Arnott

Welcome to Planet Improbable, we've been expecting you

The House of Rumour is the sort of novel that defies plot summary. Indeed, I'm not even sure if The House of Rumour is a novel in the strictest sense. Like Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad or David Mitchell's Ghostwritten, its form uses interlinked short stories. Jake Arnott produces 22 in all, modelled after the Tarot's Grand Arcana.

In one segment, a youthful Ian Fleming investigates Rudolph Hess's flight to Scotland, dreams of James Bond and encounters Aleister Crowley. These characters, storylines and motifs are among the many that are re-cycled across the whole. Hess, imprisoned in Spandau, muses on history, astrology and Neil Armstrong's Moon landing. In 1940s California, a group of science fiction writers speculate about art, flying saucers and, in the case of L Ron Hubbard, new religions.

While the resulting plot moves crazily across time, space and genre, there is method to Arnott's narrative madness. "A story should sound improbable," Fleming is informed by his very own "M". "If it is too logical it's liable to appear contrived." The House of Rumour mixes high and low art to confront matters elevated and earthly: God and the Devil, space travel and imprisonment, transcendence and death. It employs real and fictional characters to explore the fecund interrelations between art and life. For Fleming, it was life (his work in naval intelligence) that inspired art (James Bond). For Hubbard, it was the reverse: his pulp fiction coalesced into Dianetics and the cult of Scientology.

In The House of Rumour, this liaison is on an endless loop. Fleming may have dreamt up 007 to escape his own social and sexual insecurities but in the end Bond exacerbates them: Fleming's wife and her friends ruthlessly mock his low-brow triumph. And it was Hubbard's success as a 20th-century self-help guru, not his talent as an author, that earned his writing a moment of fame (or infamy).

The ironies sparked as Arnott rubs fantasy and reality together could easily ignite a flashy, but meaningless narrative bonfire. Adept at parody and allusion, The House of Rumour is acutely self-conscious. Yet, the sheer verve of his storytelling, and the depth of his characterisation, puts flesh on the bones of his ideas.

Arnott's characters are all trying to understand the mysterious universe around them. Fleming tries to unpick Hess's amnesia. A journalist locates a missing star of the New Romantic movement. An ageing B-movie actress seeks the truth about UFOs. Whether their poison is religion or politics, superstition or science, the search for meaning takes the form of a story – one that both resonates with older narratives and immediately generates future tales.

The House of Rumour is both a bold departure from Arnott's classic gangster novels, and an extension of their excavations of buried history. Here, his canvas is broader, his method more assured. Touching on many grand narratives of the past 70 years, Arnott offers a brightly coloured portrait of our times that is alternately intimate and epic. He takes detailed snapshots of Fleming arguing with his wife in Jamaica, only to zoom out across space on the Voyager 1 to remind us that Earth is simply a minuscule dot in a minuscule solar system. The House of Rumour is a brilliant achievement that invites repeated readings.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect