The Hidden: A Novel by Tobias Hill (Harper Perennial, October 13, 2009) [first published in Great Britain in 2009 by Faber and Faber], 368 pages
Ben Mercer runs away from Oxford to escape his failed marriage. He eventually ends up at a dig in Sparta, which is appropriate, since he’s been studying archaeology; maybe he’ll actually write a thesis after all? But the dig, like so many small groups are, is fraught with drama. One side says the other people can’t be trusted, the other says the same about the first. Nothing is as it seems….
I really wanted to love this book. It’s about archaeology, it’s set in Greece, the author is a poet, and the book was originally published in England. What’s not to love, right? Well, a few things, unfortunately.
The Hidden reminded me, at least in some ways, of that Barry Unsworth book I read earlier this year, Land of Marvels, in that: 1) it pretends to be a mystery/thriller but there’s no action in the first half, at least; and 2) it’s more about relational drama.
It also has pages and pages of history thrown in in spots, which disrupted the rhythm of the narrative for me. The content was needed for the story to succeed, but I wish it had been integrated more effectively.
I got really irritated by Ben. He’s filled with self-doubt and -loathing. The emotional timbre of the book struck me as very adolescent.
A couple notes on format: The Hidden has some very long chapters; I counted one at 50-plus pages. The book doesn’t have quote marks — dialogue is usually prefaced by a dash — and for the most part is lacking indicators such as he said/she said.
On a more positive note: The Hidden has a strong sense of place. Sparta is kind of a character in the book. It was evocative. Also: The concept for the book is incredibly clever and so much fun. These are really big pros. Unfortunately, though, they didn’t outshine the cons for me.
About the author
Tobias Hill is a British poet and author. His earlier novels look interesting to me: Underground, The Love of Stones, and The Cryptographer; I’d be interested in reading another book by Hill.
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