In some lit-crit circles, plot is a four letter word. Character is all, plot is something that tags along for the ride, but really isn’t important. I’ve never subscribed to that particular view of things, because for me a superior novel has both character and plot, along with a number of other virtues.[asa book]0425211584[/asa] When I first picked this novel up, I noted that this was only the author’s second novel, something that struck me as almost improbable: it reads as though she’s been writing for years. And in fact she has. Ariana Franklin is the pen name of Diana Norman — whose work I adore, and have written about here many times. I’m actually glad I didn’t know that until I had finished the novel, because it would have distracted me, looking for similarities.
I really have to admire this novel, for its interesting, frustrating, engaging, horrific and wonderful characters and for the complex series of plots and subplots woven together like challah.
Franklin begins with the well known story of Anna Anderson, a woman who appeared in Berlin in 1922 and claimed to be Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Franklin builds her fictional story around the real controversy that arose at the time: was is possible that one of the grand duchesses had really escaped the murder of the royal family? Was the young woman who claimed to be Anastasia telling the truth, or was she trying to scam her way into an inheritance that wasn’t hers?
I won’t recount the details of the controversy — which still rage on, despite the fact that DNA testing was conducted, and many are satisfied with the conclusions drawn from those tests. What is far more interesting is what Franklin does telling a story about those who interacted with Anderson. She does this by means of a series of murders that come close to Anderson and those who cared for her after her release from a mental institution, and she does it very well.[asa book]0399154140[/asa] By the end of the novel the question of who Anderson really was is moot, because a far more interesting storyline — two of them, in fact, have taken over. The connection between Esther, who is one of Anderson’s caretakers, a scarred Russian refugee, a woman of great intelligence and compassion, and Schmidt, a detective, is developed slowly and subtly, but with great effect. And finally, Franklin does a masterful job of capturing what it was like to live in Berlin in the time of the worst inflation, and then the ever tightening stranglehold of National Socialism under Hitler.
This is not a short book, and it is not rushed. There were times when I wished she would move forward more quickly, but I couldn’t make myself skip — which is really high praise from me.
There is another Franklin novel that came out just this past month. I’ve already ordered it. What I don’t know is, how I’ll be able to resist picking it up until I’ve got some other, work-related reading done.