Author: Hans M. Hirschi
Publisher: Yaree AB
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
In an isolated mountain town in Norway, Haakon dreams of traveling the world, pursuing adventure, seeing great cities, finding love. His very first trip to London with friends from university offers much promise, yet soon after tragedy strikes. Still young, and mourning the loss of his lover, Haakon is not ready to give up on his dream, so when a rich Englishman offers him the chance to join him on a tour of the world, Haakon takes it, daring to believe that his dream is finally coming true…but at what price?
The Fallen Angels of Karnataka is a novel filled with adventure, life’s hard-learned lessons, loss, despicable evil, and finally, love and redemption.
This is a remarkable novel. At one important level it is a near-epic tale of good and evil, the intertwined narratives of Haakon Olafsen and Charles Hennessey. I say “almost” because it is really, at its core, entirely Haakon’s tale, the Candide-like peregrinations of an innocent Norwegian boy who yearns to travel the world and who, quite significantly, falls in love along the way.
Haakon’s central presence in the book is its greatest strength. I really loved this naïve, emotionally hindered young man, who grows up on a rural farm in Norway and wants nothing more than to see every corner of the earth. But Haakon is a romantic lad (much as I was and, miraculously, remain), and it is after a journey of love and terrible loss that he encounters Charles Hennessey, fortyish English billionaire, who, it appears, can make his dream come true.
But the innocent Haakon’s good fortune is, unknown to him, a double-edged sword, and one that will take him into dark places no man with his gentle soul should ever go. This aspect of the novel, which takes up the majority of the plot, hinges on our willingness to believe in Haakon and Charles’s friendship. I struggled at times with this, but in the end, Haakon’s profound goodness is what allowed me to accept Hirschi’s improbable narrative.
What is even more startling is that the character of Charles Hennessey is no black-and-white villain. In some ways he and Haakon are flip sides of the same coin; two gay men who have been nurtured under very different circumstances and as a result have become the embodiments of light and dark. It is the element of chance—fate?—that makes Hennessey’s life tragic, rather than simply evil. It seems that Hirschi (who is himself Swedish and married to a man with whom he has a son) is commenting on the huge risk it is to grow up gay in our world. I was disturbed by Hennessey—as I was meant to be; but I was also profoundly moved and saddened by his story. This was unexpected, and I have to nod to Hirschi for daring to present this character in such a nuanced way.
What prevents “The Fallen Angels of Karnataka” from being five stars is Hirschi’s sometimes clunky writing, and his annoying habit of darting in and out of other characters’ minds. There is a flatness of affect in the writing that actually works with Haakon’s character for the most part. It suits his naïve Norwegian persona. On the other hand, the book is written entirely from Haakon’s point of view—except when it isn’t. It’s not so bad, or unexpected, that we might see inside Charles Hennessey’s mind now and then, or even inside that of Mahender Chitragar, who looms large in the final quarter of the narrative. But when we know what minor players in this drama are thinking, with no consistent use of this omnipresence, it’s too much of a reminder of the author’s hand, and is both confusing and distracting.
I’m not sure I’d have picked up this book if it had not been offered to me for review. I am so glad I read it, because it is a novel unlike most, and deserves attention and acclaim for its great heart.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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