Unknown (A Special Edition of Out of My Head)
By Didier van Cauwelaert; Translated by Mark Polizzotti; Read by Bronson Pinchot
4 CDs – Approx. 4 Hours 21 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: December 2010
Themes: / Mystery / Identity / Amnesia / Identity Theft / Science / Botany / France /
This fast-paced thriller is the basis for the February 2011 film Unknown, starring Liam Neeson, Frank Langella, Diane Kruger, and Aidan Quinn. Martin Harris returns home after a short absence to find that his wife doesn’t know him, another man is living in his house under his name, and the neighbors think he’s a raving lunatic. Worse, not a single person — family, colleague, or doctor — can vouch for him. Worse still, the impostor shares all of Martin’s memories, experiences, and knowledge, down to the last detail. He is, in fact, a more convincing Martin than Martin himself. Is it a conspiracy? Amnesia? Is Martin the victim of an elaborate hoax, or of his own paranoid delusion? In his high-powered new novel, Didier van Cauwelaert, the award-winning author of One-Way, explores the illusory nature of identity and the instability of the things we take for granted. Dispossessed of his job, his family, his name, and his very past, Martin Harris is an Everyman caught in an absurd and yet disturbingly convincing nightmare, one that seems to have no exit and that resists every explanation. Part moral fable, part Robert Ludlum-style thriller, Unknown is a fast-paced tale of one man’s desperate attempt to reclaim his existence — even at the cost of his own life.
Unknown is an old fashioned mystery story with an amateur detective who is trying to solve the most important case of his life – his own. The narrative, told in first person, is brisk, fresh, and just slightly foreign. It was such a good for me to have a short novel like this, one that wrapped itself up in less than a day and a half of listening! It reminded me of such wonderful standalone novels as Ed McBain’s Downtown |READ OUR REVIEW| and Donald E. Westlake’s Memory. But unlike those two novels, which had passive protagonists, Martin Harris is competent and determined. He had me investigating and pondering right along with him. I, like he, was attentive to his dilemma, was constantly working through the possibilities of what might be going on, following the thought processes and tripping over the doubts he had in every scene. And, I did all this after seeing the film! I’m really kicking myself about that. Had I read the book, before watching the movie, I think I would have enjoyed the novel quite a bit more. That said, the novel isn’t the movie. The novel is different in tone and detail.
It’s cool to have an intelligent protagonist who thinks through dozens of possible scenarios despite being constantly bombarded by failure. The portrait Didier van Cauwelaert paints, of a distraught victim of identity theft, is full of the kinds of ambiguity and doubt that feels like a very European version of a Robert Ludlum novel. The protagonist may be American, but the novel feels French. The little things that might mean something are everywhere, all the characters seem to have a back story, all of which might be red herrings or just nothing at all and the focus on character and inner-space was surprising. Had the novel been twice the length I doubt I would have enjoyed it half as much.
Bronson Pinchot’s facility with accents is perfect for this novel set in Paris with an American hero. The audiobook is currently available at the Overstock 50% off discounted price (on CD). My thinking is that I did this all wrong, I should have watched the movie after reading the book. If you do it in the right order, let me know what you think of the book, and the movie.
Posted by Jesse Willis