Book Review: 'The Truth'

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Michael Palin. Thomas Dunne Books, 261 pp. $24.99

Many will recognize Michael Palin from "Monty Python" fame; a few may know him from his well-received 1998 novel, "Hemingway's Chair." And while I hope many may remember him in years to come from his latest novel, "The Truth," I feel this novel may be too subtle to become extremely successful.

Keith Mabbut is a one-hit wonder in journalism. Years ago, he received a British Gas Award for exposing a water quality issue. But since then nothing substantial has come his way, and he's resolved to focus his efforts on fiction.

A call from his agent derails his plans completely. He's been commissioned to write a no-holds-barred account of the life of a prominent environmentalist named Hamish Melville. The only caveat is that Melville has never given an interview, especially not about himself and especially not to reporters.

But the search for an understanding of this elusive man leads Mabbut on a journey around the world. He must first track Melville down, and then he must convince him to talk. Meanwhile, there is suspicion that his "boss" -- the publisher that hired him to write the book -- may have motives for the project aside from an exclusive tell-all on a popular public figure.

Palin's writing is incredibly intelligent, though it did take a little while to really get into the book. He keeps a distance from his plot and characters that makes it difficult to engage fully with the story but easy to observe the big picture. With that in mind, the first chapter truly captivated me, even as a stand-alone story.

With regards to the big picture, I believe Palin is arguing that the truth may be ambiguous, or at least difficult to truly determine. The right answer isn't always either "black" or "white." At times I found myself siding with one side, only to be swayed a few pages later. As much as Mabbut is on the journey to find out what's really going on, the reader is taken along for the ride. But whatever the conclusion may be, the truth deserves commitment, and Palin makes a good case for this as well.

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