September Books 2) A Game With Sharpened Knives

2) A Game With Sharpened Knives, by Neil Belton

Misha Glenny had been recommending that I get hold of this book since long before it was published, and now I know why. It’s a fascinating, multilayered novel about the physicist Erwin Schrödinger moving to Ireland in 1941, with his wife, and his lady friend, and his daughter by his lady friend, and how he falls in love yet again (informal polygamy rather than polyamory); there are a lot of bicycles, and a few cats (though perhaps not as many as you might have expected), and a real sense of the dreary claustrophobia of Dublin during WW2 (or “The Emergency” as it was known locally), and of the horrors of fascism on the continent and of the terrors of theoretical physics as a discipline. It draws quite a lot on Walter Moore’s 1989 biography but Belton makes the story all his own.

I twitched a bit at a few of the historical details – conversations about William Rowan Hamilton (the great nineteenth century Irish mathematician) tend to suggest that the characters have all read Hankins’ biography, not published until 1980; and the de Valera of the book is, though cold and chilling, a somewhat nicer person than the one that I have encountered through biographers and historians. (Belton’s fictional de Valera gets one of the best lines, talking of partitioned Ireland as “neither alive nor dead”, thus echoing Schrödinger’s most famous thought experiment.) Still, this is a novel, not a historical work, and it’s forgiveable.

A lot of talk, and not a lot of action, but I rather enjoyed it.

One thought on “September Books 2) A Game With Sharpened Knives

  1. Of the various places I’ve worked the one with the largest number of vision-impaired staff was GCHQ, where a significant minority of linguists were.

    I recently met a completely blind barrister who also sits as a part-time judge, which given the amount of assimilation of material the job involves really impressed me.

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