Monday, 25 July 2011

Thoughts on The Dervish House

This is a book that requires little introduction. Nominated for both the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Award, and winning John W Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel, it’s a benchmark of contemporary science fiction. The British Science Fiction Association also tipped its cap to McDonald, so what’s all the fuss about?

McDonald takes a selection of characters who have a connection the the titular property. At the beginning of the novel many of the characters don’t even know each other particularly well, but McDonald constructs a plot that weaves and intertwines the cast in a fascinating and unpredictable fashion. This really is a tour de force of plotting and planning and gives the novel an particularly satisfying conclusion.

And while I’m on the subject of characters (and there are quite few) it seems only fair to say McDonald really does sketch wonderful people to play the parts he needs. Georgios Ferentinou manages to steal much of the limelight. As an elderly Greek academic living in an increasingly hostile Istanbul, Georgios initially seems an odd choice but his story is both rewarding and unrequited. Similarly Can, a young boy with a heart defect, is another protagonist that is fair from an obvious choice, and yet much of the novel relies on his audacity and prodigious genius.

A good novel quite often makes a character of the setting itself, and The Dervish House is no exception in this regard. Istanbul of the future is every bit exotic, sultry and chaotic as the present day equivalent. More surprisingly perhaps is the fact that that McDonald’s Istanbul is so authentic and largely unchanged by the advent of wide scale Nanotech use and increasingly powerful computers. In this regard the novel is a kindred spirt of Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk trilogy and his city El Iskandria, which I’m a huge fan of.

And it doesn’t stop there. Just as McDonald weaves the seemingly unconnected lives of strangers together, so he binds together elements of technology, mysticism, radicalism and political and economic intrigue. The Dervish House really is breathtaking in breadth and depth, whilst telling very human stories in slick and unfussy prose. Impatient readers may wonder where they’re being led to during the middle of the book, but stick with it, this is one ending you’ll not want to miss.

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