Europe at Midnight
By Dave Hutchinson
Europe in Autumn was my first experience of Dave Hutchinson's unique and astonishing voice. It is simply sublime fiction, a deep and intelligent story and one of my favourite reads of recent times. It was impressive enough to win SFBook Book of the Year in 2014. Europe at Midnight is the much sought after sequel and continues to explore Hutchinson's near future, fractured, Europe.
Europe at Midnight is not however a direct continuation of the story and protagonist featured in the first book. Instead it expands on the alternative world with a story that moves through a number of states and protagonists and begins within a strange region that appears to be in a slightly different dimension to the rest of Europe. It's within this strange place (the whole of which seems to be one big University) that we meet intelligence officer Rupert of Hentzau who is investigating dead bodies being dredged from a river. These bodies are presumed to be part of a group attempting to escape from the campus, with the very real possibility that others may have succeeded — an act thought previously impossible.
The second plotline follows Jim, another intelligence officer however this time one who works for His Majesties secret service in London and is following an investigation of a man stabbed under strange circumstances on a London bus. This is stranger still as Jim wouldn't usually visit such a crime scene, only the victim happened to ask for political asylum. The storry is narrated along these two threads, both Jim's and Ruperts following the same plot which takes them both into a dangerous struggle of shifting sides fighting to gain control of the Campus.
I loved the idea of the "University", playing on the origins of the word. It's no coincidence that University and Universe are similiar words — the Latin universitas (which the word University is based on) means "the whole, the universe, the world". The pocket reality of Hutchinson's creation makes a subtly different place to tell a story, a clever idea and one that the author uses to great effect. Within the Campus people are all ranked from student to professor and these titles seem to be partly hereditory. The Campus is split into different schools which appear to have an almost war-like approach to each other. As with the authors previous book the story staggers in time — a device that really draws the reader in to imagine what happened between the gaps. It's almost impossible to put down and draws you down this rabbit warren of intrigue and shifting identity.
This book examines the most topical of subjects, the increasing infringement of personal freedom and expanding control by the state. The continued rise of extremism and large scale terrosim along with the progressively fragile nature of country and world-level economy. The shifting political structures and the currently popular insular, backwards devolved view of Country and Europe. It's a soberingly close, worrying vision that wouldn't take too many leaps to become reality (except for the pocket universe perhaps, but even here there is increasing evidence of such existence).
Hutchinson's prose feels like it combines some of the best bits from a few of my favourite authors. There is the dogged realism and drudgery of Philip K Dick, the liguistic flair and subtle imagination of China Miéville along with the vision of Peter Higgins. Thats not to say it's derrivitive in the slightest, more that the authors voice is a singular gift to fiction. The book moves at a good pace despite it's police-procedural style and entrances with it's lucid prose and intelligent plot.
Europe at Midnight is mind expanding, accessible yet deeply layered fiction that matches anything those pulitzer, man-booker or hugo award winners could offer. JFBI — Just Fecking Buy It.
Written on 4th November 2015 by Ant .