Arrow £7.99 (644pp). £7.59 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Moment, By Douglas Kennedy
Friday 03 February 2012
The past is a foreign country in more ways than one for the protagonists of Douglas Kennedy's novel. Largely set in Cold War Berlin, this hard-hitting love story tears down the dividing walls between past and present, showing how the course of history can turn in an instant. An author of consistently engaging and clever bestsellers, Kennedy has ranged from Stateside dramas to noirish thrillers. The Moment pulls together both strains in his fiction, marrying romantic tragedy with Le Carré-style espionage.
In a small cottage in Maine a middle-aged writer, Thomas Nesbitt, is hunkering down after the collapse of his marriage. Not long after his divorce papers are served, another package arrives. The parcel is from Petra Dussmann, a woman with whom he was involved 25 years earlier. Opening the package, he's transported back to 1980s Berlin and memories of a life-changing love affair.
Many of Kennedy's male leads dream of escape and reinvention; Thomas, at 26, is no exception. Practised in the art of evasion, he is anxious to shed the entanglements of his old life and start again. Reinventing himself as a travel writer, he rents a room in the city's Kreuzberg district, and becomes fast friends with his landlord, Alistair, a louche Anglo-Irish artist who introduces him to the pleasures of underground Berlin. A job at Radio Liberty provides an income and it is here that he meets Petra, a young translator with dangerous links to the GDR.
Romantic fiction relies on the notion that falling in love is a defining moment, and Thomas's attraction to the melancholic Petra is immediate and profound. Dressed in modish black, the loved-up twosome declare their passion over cheap wine and spaghetti. But as details of Petra's compromised past start to surface, Thomas finds himself swept up in a series of face-offs that expose him to the grubbier realities of Cold War surveillance. Thanks to Stasi and Washington operatives, Petra and Thomas are no longer masters of their own destinies.
The novel's set pieces are robustly staged and Kennedy turns the plot on its axis several times. The sadness at the heart of the novel is what makes it more than just an evocative recreation of an interesting time and place. A quarter of a century on, Thomas is left wrestling with the notion of opportunities missed and happiness squandered. Kennedy asks how far we all find ourselves in hock to history
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 3 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 4 The most powerful passports in the world
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove