What if John le Carre wrote science fiction instead of spy fiction? It might come out something like this offbeat novel – though for its first four-fifths or so, I couldn’t quite see why it was classified as science fiction at all.
True, there was futuristic technology – cloaking garments, newfangled pistols – but it seemed almost an afterthought. At its core, the novel seemed to be speculative fiction set in a Europe fractured into myriad tiny city-states (including, briefly, one comprised of Gunter Grass fans) – a satire inspired by such headlines as the Scottish independence referendum.
EUROPE IN AUTUMN follows Rudi, a chef in a Krakow restaurant, as he almost accidentally falls into a new occupation necessitated by the constantly shifting crazy quilt of European borders: He becomes one of a shadowy cadre of apolitical couriers who carry sensitive information and packages (sometimes human ones) across them. In short order we see him transform from bungling yet resourceful naif to jaded professional, old before his time.
It was only late in the narrative that I began to twig onto just how odd Dave Hutchinson’s imaginary near-future Europe really is. That’s where he introduces, via a clever fictive false document, a fantasy conceit worthy of Philip K. Dick, and opens the way to sequels set in his mad but meticulously constructed parallel world.
EUROPE IN AUTUMN is smart, original, distinctive and highly readable. The le Carre influence is unmistakable, but it’s le Carre through a kaleidoscope. Call it The Spy Who Came In Through the Looking Glass.