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This book lived up to the words the author puts in Trotsky’s mouth about novels, ‘Where does any man go to be free, whether he is poor or rich or even in prison?’ Following the life of Harrison Shepherd: swimmer, cook, secretary, novelist, as he becomes caught up in events larger than him. Moving into adulthood an indelible mark is placed on him as he works in the house of the painters Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, and then that of the exiled Russian communist Trotsky, in Mexico before fleeing to the States; as both countries forge their modern characters. The novel captures the issues of identity, belonging, and the dangers of illiberalism.  

The lacuna – an underwater tunnel leading to an isolated inland spot where Shepard can escape his childhood burdens for a while – also stands for the gap, the blankness, at the centre of characters’ understanding of each other. A repeated motif  ‘the most important part of the story is the piece of it you don’t know’ runs through the novel.  

And so much isn’t known by Harrison about others – ‘a wife and child’, illnesses, death, the depth and shallowness of attachments. But more isn’t known about him by others – his sexuality, his love, his striving to belong, his trust in hope, all, perhaps, eventually betrayed.

This is a breathtaking novel. Describing in poetic prose the attempts of a man to survive with his identity and dignity intact in the face of all that life can throw at him, and teaching that there is always a lacuna where that can be achieved.


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