Paperback: 507 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Inc (USA), Faber and Faber Ltd (Great Britain)
Published: First edition 2009Language: English
The story is quite complex and is told from two people's perspectives. The book is comprised of the writings and personal diaries of Harrison Shepherd, who begins keeping a record of his life from a young age. His writings are compiled by his stenographer, Violet Brown, who supplements them with her own views as newspaper clippings that refer to Harrison in some way. Harrison Shepherd has lead an unusual life, moving between Mexico and the USA throughout his childhood and adulthood. The central event in his life is the assassination of Lev Trotsky, whom he meets and begins working for as a secretary of sorts. He meets Trotsky when he is working for a cook in the house of Diego Rivers and Frida Kahlo, both of whom agree to house Trotsky during his banishment from Russia. The assassination of Trotsky sees the house fall apart, and Harrison travels to the USA with Frida Kahlo's painting, delivers them to a gallery and then settles in an American town. He lives a quiet life as an author, where he hired Violet Brown as his assistant. His settled life, however, begins to go dramatically haywire when his links to Trotsky and the Rivera's come back to haunt him in the McCarthy era.
What is really interesting about the Harrison's diaries is that they focus on the small details of daily life; purchasing cigarettes for his mother, doing chores at boarding school, typing for Trotsky, watching Trotsky's assistant Van undress. Harrison isn't well education or particularly political like the people he is surrounded by. He is interested in the daily reality and it is the daily reality that Harrison gives us an insight into.
This means that you don't see a whole lot of Harrison himself in his writing, particularly in the beginning of the book. There are a couple of glimpses toward the beginning of his true feelings; for example, when his mother dies and when Van ruffles his hair. I did feel like there was some incongruity between the voice he uses in his diaries and the way in which he records the conversations he has with others (particularly with Frida). As the writer he seems shy but thoughtful and insightful. In his conversations with other he appears to be more sarcastic and quick witted. I'm not trying to say that this reduced the believability of Harrison as a character at all. On the contrary, the difference between his inner and outer voice (if you will) only makes him more real. The difference does reduce throughout the course of the novel, and I think that perhaps this could be attributed to the ageing process, as he becomes more comfortable with himself, his inner voice and outer voice become more similar.
For me, this difference (as well as a lot of the other events in the novel) are really embodied by the title The Lacuna. This means the gap - there are so many gaps and holes in his life. There's almost a sense of some sort of expanse between Harrison and the world. He seems to operate at a distance from the world and he tries not to let it effect him, until he can't control it any longer.
What kind of read is it?
Do I recommend it?
Do I recommend buying it?