I was, in retrospect, too hard on this novel when I reviewed it on March 25, 2013. It’s better than I made it sound.
I’ve thought of it from time to time since then and fondly.
It also seems, in its way, comparable to Edward Whittemore’s Quin’s Shanghai Circus which I’ll be reviewing shortly. That’s why you get this retro review now.
Review: The House of Rumour: A Novel, Jake Arnott, 2013.
Ian Fleming, spy and novelist
Aleister Crowley, the “wickedest man alive”
Jack Parsons, rocket scientist and black magician
L. Ron Hubbard, novelist and messiah
Rudolph Hess, Nazi
Jim Jones, messiah
Nation of Islam, saucer cult
Arnott, in a narrative arranged thematically around the Tarot deck, gives us a secret history that ranges through most of the 20th Century and up to 2011 and back and forth in time from the death of a former MI5 employee and a transvestite hooker in 1987 to a cabal of 1941 science fiction writers in Los Angeles. Here many a character real and imagined have parts, but mostly it’s the story of the fictitious science fiction writer Larry Zagorski and the real Nazi Rudolph Hess. The supporting characters are more ideas and events than people: Hess’ flight to England, the Cuban Revolution, Scientology, black magic, saucer cults, monster movies, utopia and the moment – like a collapsing quantum wave function – the promise becomes disillusionment. And, through it all, is the unrequited love of Larry for a woman.
Part of me suspects that this sort of novel is written starting with a list of historical events and people and then a plot thought up for connecting all the characters and events. But that’s ok. The whole aesthetic of a good conspiracy theory comes from how the dots are linked and how many you work with. Continue reading