The Hiding Game feels like a kind of cross between William Boyd’s The New Confessions and The Secret History by Donna Tartt, whose structure it echoes, and it possesses similar satisfactions. It boasts smooth, clear and occasionally properly memorable prose. [...] It has a vivid sense of place; nice set pieces; characters to care for; and a moral universe whose parameters are internally set then underscored by the 20th century’s clearest possible delineation of good and evil. Often this is effective – for instance when, in Weimar, the school secretary arrives to ask anyone foreign or Jewish or communist to leave the class... But sometimes nazism feels overly leaned on, a readymade absolute darkness, when really it must have felt rather more complicated to be alive in the 1930s... To be fair, the novel is voiced by someone who is looking back, 40 years on, and knows what happened – but as readers, we are also expected to be in the moment with his younger, hindsight-lacking self, and so it seems a missed opportunity, and too virtuously simplistic. Yet in the main the questions The Hiding Game asks are no less important for having been asked many times before: can the most damaging acts come about through love rather than hate? What is worse: willed ignorance, self-justification or lying to oneself?
Wood addresses all of these questions and more in The Hiding Game, her third novel that follows the award-winning Mrs Hemingway of 2014. Comparisons have been drawn with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, dealing with intense relationships, petty and poignant betrayals, and unreliable perspectives of a talented, charismatic and obsessive friendship group who enter the Bauhaus in 1922... Where Wood differs from Tartt, however, is in the mode of execution; there is less explicit complexity in the narration and an admirable restraint in demonstrating what is clearly her profound understanding and knowledge of the world this novel inhabits... It takes tremendous skill to set a novel in a moment of history that is already so comprehensively represented in both fact and fiction and manage to reveal something new. It requires even greater ability to deliver a personal narrative that is not overshadowed by what we now appreciate as perhaps the most significant period in global history... For anyone with even a passing interest in Weimar art, the iconic Bauhaus cultural production or the efficacy of art as medium for truth, this novel is a great gift. It is also much more than that – a nuanced, powerful observation on what it means to be human in a world that seems determined to learn little from history.
The author of the critically acclaimed Mrs Hemingway turns her attention to the political and cultural landscape of Germany in the 1920s. When Paul Beckermann arrives at the Bauhaus art school in 1922, he’s captivated not only by his teachers but his fellow students too, not least the enigmatic Charlotte. But while Paul is immersed in the seductions and rivalries among his new friends, the rise of the far right threatens the Bauhaus’s very existence. Interweaving the personal and the political, Wood creates an atmospheric backdrop through which to explore the impact of macro events on art, culture, friendship and personal freedoms.
As Weimar Germany careers towards crisis, Paul’s narrative unfolds the shifting relationships in the group, and the betrayals that still haunt him. With great conviction, Wood summons up the intensity of the students’ camaraderie and the forces that destroy it.
As we head into the emotionally charged and morally complex denouement, the novel acquires new potency. There may be few winners in The Hiding Game but the reward for the reader is Wood’s shrewd examination of loss.
Wood is a deft writer who deserves to be better known. Her debut, The Godless Boys, was a compelling alternative history of England in 1986; her second novel, Mrs Hemingway, reimagined the lives of the American author’s four wives. For her third, she alights on new territory, spinning a suspenseful story of obsession against the tense political backdrop of Germany’s Bauhaus art school.
A love story set in the Bauhaus art school during Germany's turbulent 1920s? Be still, my pounding heart!