August, by Bernard Beckett (Text Publishing, 2011, $30.00)
A book that is billed as ‘a philosophical thriller’ poses unusual questions. We don’t judge science fiction by the accuracy of its science. Nor do we require historical novels to adhere strictly to the facts. In both cases, perhaps, we would want the writer to be aware of the accepted consensus and to take account of it but the whole point of fiction is that it involves an invented reality. Shadbolt’s Season of the Jew, for example, is a novel first and history second. How then should we approach a fiction that is centred round a philosophical problem? Does it really matter if the analysis of that problem is unsound or incomplete? Should one forget the philosophy and talk about the fiction or should one criticise the philosophy and the fiction? The answer, I suppose, is that it depends on the book.
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