Fall of Man in Wilmslow
Pub Date: May 7 2015
Buy/Order: Amazon UK
Published in Sweden in 2009 it would seem its appearance in translation now of David Lagercrantz enthralling “Fall from Grace in Wilmslow” may have been down, in some part, to the success of the recent film about Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, taking, as it does, his death as its stating point. It’s June , 1954 and a dead body has been found at a home in Wilmslow. Disillusioned young Detective Constable Leonard Corell is dispatched to handle the case and soon becomes curious as to the manner of the death and the dead man himself.
Corell quickly learns the dead man, Alan Turing is a convicted homosexual, and one who was forced to take female hormones as part of his punishment. He also discovers he has an O.B.E and seems to have done ‘something’ in the war, but what seems to be a secret. Fuelled on by his own, previously abandoned, love of mathematics as well as a growing admiration for the dead man’s genius, Corell sets out to uncover just what Turing did in the war. This, in turn, brings Corell himself to the attention of the security services who are less than keen on anyone uncovering Turings involvement in the war effort, and in the face of recent defections to Russia are paranoid about anyone knowing anything at all.
This is an Intelligent, thoughtful and fascinating novel. Like the best faction (fact and fiction) writing Fall from Grace in Wilmslow succeeds both in drawing the reader into the world of a 50s cold war Britain and a time where just being in love could be a crime, as well as drawing a portrait of one of the great minds of the twentieth century. As with all faction writing there is the problem that the reader has no idea what the author has taken from the facts and what has been invented in their re-creation of events, but in that case you just have to look at the book as a potential starting point – as I’m sure many will – to finding out more about the real Turing. What is not in doubt is that Lagercrantz shows a love for Turing, his genius and also his naivety, and the book delves deep into his ideas and writings. This is a book of ideas – mathematics, science, philosophy, sexuality, politics, and of inner conflict, which sits heavy in both lead characters. Correll finds a lot to identify with in Turing and in the way he used mathematics to make sense of the world. For example the liar’s paradox in an idea that runs throughout the book: “I’m Lying!” If that sentence is true, then it’s a lie, because the speaker is lying, but then of course he is telling the truth because he says he is lying”. This has always held a personal fascination for me too, even when it is adapted, as for example it is in the truthful whitefoot/lying blackfoot riddle Cary Grant’s character tells Audrey Hepburn’s in the Stanley Donen 1963 film Charade. How something that is so simple can also be so complex is a wondrous and fascinating thing.
I also identified with Correll’s growing obsession about Turing. And it is hard not to be impressed by Turing. This is a man who, in 1936, invented the idea of a ‘Universal Machine’, basically a electronic computer, capable of running any program. A man who was at the forefront of thinking on Artificial Intelligence: his 1950 paper, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ introduced the idea that one day machines could ‘think’, although as he recognised that ‘thinking’ was difficult to define, it was more a question of whether a machine could imitate a real human being. The novel brings these, and other, ideas to life.
The novel also does a good job of the sexual politics of the time. Corell, like many of those around him is disgusted by homosexuality – though one expects he experienced it himself at school. He genuinely struggles with how he can so admire a man who is at the same time one he and others consider to be perverted. Corell, we get the impression, feels on some level he could have been Turing: a man who is dedicated to learning and mathematics, as opposed to just being PC plod in a backwater town. Indeed he is described as more like a student with an enquiring mind than a policemen at one point in the book. This case gives his life meaning again and awakens his thirst for knowledge.
Will Correll step on too many toes? Will the secret service have to ‘shut him up’?
Fall from Grace in Wilmslows is a genuinely thrilling read. Lagercrantz blends intelligence and thrills and George Goulding’s translation zips off the page helping to make this a thoroughly engaging novel. This is good news for fans of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series which Lagercrantz has been hired to pen further novels for [The Girl in the Spider’s Web is due out 27 August]. On this evidence that series is in good hands.
Review copy provided by MacLehose Press / Netgalley