Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two Murders in my Double Life - Josef Škvorecký

Two stories, one in the Edenvale College , and one in his native Czech almost at the same time revolves around a murder in Canada and a character assassination ( ? ) in the his homeland, told in a rather interwoven narrative by a professor, emigre from Czech living in Canada with his wife.

The narrator, like the author, lives a double life. One his present life in Canada , and the other his past life in his home country. As we realise, these two lives overlap and there is no escape from his past life and events.

The story starts with a murder of Raymod Hammet, husband of an Edenvale professor. The college with its eccentric professors and students, the romantic entanglements, and professional rivalries adds the the conspiracy theory in the mind of the professor. The police Sergeant Dorothy Sayers, who is investigating this case ( and also a student of the narrator) comes with her multiple suspects and theories. There are no proofs against anyone, only alibis. As the professors goes through the various incidents ( and some keen observations thanks to his wife) and stories and trying to connect them to the common thread, the picture is getting clearer to him on the murder. Professor, as a writer of crime fiction, gets into the act of finding out the motives of the murderer and the motives of the possible witnesses with his clever inquisitive tactics, manages ( well, almost) to untangle the mystery by himself, while fighting another battle at his own personal life.

His wife ( Sidonia) , who is also an emigre like him (both of them deserted Czech , to settle in Canada) runs a publishing house, releasing writings of authors of Czech exile. The end of communist regime and the end of StG ( the secret police) rule , things are expected to get better for those in exile. More so for Sidonia, with the eminent personalities including the President of the State, are among her close friends and associates. However, one document published in 'kill communism' an exile magazine on the involvement of Sidonia, in reporting one of her co-worker to StG, ( a la Milan Kundera , as you see in these recent revelations) has changed their lives forever . Sidonia's name also appeared in "the list" as one of the informers of StG during her past life at Czech. Sidonia, and to a lesser extend the professor, gets into the depression, discontinuing her writing , spending her days in the company of alcohol. It hasn't been easy for the professor as well. Their efforts of coming clean in the malice, prove fatal as more dirt is surfaced. His attempt to meet the creators of the report and confronting them with dire consequences too did not help to reduce the damage that has already been done. The officials , represented by a blond lawyer is also been very non-committal as she states ,
"An entry in the register of files, or if you wish, on the List , in no way proves that the registered person behaved as an agent and performed an agent's duties. It proves only one single thing; that he or she has entered into the register of files".

Though they have managed to come clean out of this trouble by a court ruling, it was already too late and the physical health and mental health of Sidonia was already on a decline.

Two murders in my Double life is thus a story of past & present, of Czech and Edenvale, of personal and professional life , of crime and alibi and of life and death. It is a crime fiction, a memoir, a campus story all in one.

This is the first novel written by Skvorecky in English and the narrator and his wife resembles to himself and his wife in character. I have read his one of his earlier novel "Republic of Whores" years ago, and recollect, not having a great opinion about it. This book has been written in a humorous, very informal style, intermixing the events beautifully, and with an easy and absorbing narration.

"for all good writers know that the first idea that occurs must be rejected. Such unexamined impulses must be destroyed by the power of thought."

Two Murders in my Double Life

Josef Škvorecký
178 Pages
Rs 462
More read : NY Times, Complete Review , Interview with the author

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