Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Memory Room

By Christopher Koch

The first sentences of the blurb read:
'What is a spy? Are they born, or are they made?' With these words, Vincent Austin analyses his future occupation. Some spies are made, he says, but his kind is born. He is devoted to secrecy for its own sake.

It sounds like an exciting spy-novel. However, this is by no means a conventional espionage thriller. It's not an espionage novel at all really, except for maybe a chapter in China where a fantastic picture is painted of Chinese politics before, and during, the rule of Deng Xiaoping.

The novel follows two best friends, Vincent Austin and Derek Bradley, on their separate journeys from a sleepy Hobart up through the ranks of ASIS - the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

The Memory Room reeks of great thriller potential from the very first page but is largely unfufilling and disappointing. There is also something unnerving about a meeting in a coffee shop in Canberra's "Civic centre" and trenchcoats by Lake Burley Griffin. To me, this suggest more of porn-trading politicians than top spies at the height of the Cold War.

To me, the best thing about reading this novel was the difference and changes in Hobart between the 1950's and the 1990's. Other than that pretty picture, I was left wanting a lot more from such an acclaimed author.