A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to win a free Proof Copy of a forthcoming début novel by Ben Fergusson from Little, Brown. It’s taken me until now to read it, but since they were kind enough to send it to me (and it’s not up on GoodReads, so I can’t review it there) I figured I might as well throw some thoughts on it up here.
The Spring of Kasper Meier is a powerful historical fiction novel set in post-war Berlin. Kasper Meier, our protagonist, is a small-time black market trader, trying to make enough to survive in a city decimated by war, and keep his elderly father safe.
I’m not generally a big historical fiction fan, so that probably coloured my opinion of this book a little – it’s probably also a lot of why it’s taken me almost three weeks to read it, which is pretty unusual for me.
So! Kasper is a black market trader, dealing in anything from tinned ham to cigarettes to information. At the beginning of the book he’s approached by a young woman, Eva, seeking information about a British pilot – Kasper is disinclined to work with her, but he rapidly ends up entangled in a web of blackmail, deceit, and treachery, complicated by the web of secrets he’s had to live his life behind.
Of the little historical fiction I’ve read, it all seems to be based around wartime Europe – but rarely in Germany. The Spring of Kasper Meier was a new experience for me not only in its location and style, but also in that it dealt with a protagonist who was one of those persecuted during the war, and clearly not safe after the war had ended either.
The book was dark, oh, certainly, and gritty. Violent at times too. Although it wasn’t my usual style, I did enjoy reading it. It was tough going at times, but it opened my eyes to things I hadn’t ever considered before, so that was a new experience for me.
I have a few small complaints about the book – it was, at times, confusing and rushed – a lot of names popped up that I immediately forgot, leading to immense confusion when they reappeared, and having to flick back to see when this character was first introduced. The characters of Hans and Lena were immensely creepy, but not even a little bit fleshed out – the tiny bit of development they got in the last twenty pages wasn’t even close to enough – I would have loved to see a lot more about them. The ending of the book was quite abrupt -I think only twenty pages wrapped up the entire thing, leaving me more than a little dissatisfied. And lastly, although this is a stupid complaint, the fact that it was an uncorrected proof copy had me itching to get a pen and mark it up, then send it back to Little, Brown. I don’t think they would have appreciated that, though.
My overall opinion of the book? I’d definitely recommend it – the fluidity of writing is astonishing for a début novel, and although it was outside my preferred genres, I did really enjoy reading it. It was dark and thought-provoking, and at times a very uncomfortable read, but that only adds to its power. A few trigger warnings to attach to it – mostly for rape and sexual violence, but also murder, violence, and rather bloody deaths.
Four stars for Mr Fergusson, and I’ll keep an eye on him to see what he produces in the future, too.