I started reading this book last night. When I finished the last page, I got out of bed, made breakfast, then stood in front of the bifolds looking out at the garden while drinking coffee. I watched a magpie watching me, and thought that as long as there are Danes, there maybe hope for the human race after all.
It was 4am, so I was probably a bit more emotional than I usually am.
Now I don’t read a lot of YA fiction. I think the last one was Predator’s Gold from the Mortal Engines series. But I actually made the effort to track this one one down after my much better half (she’s a huge Toksvig fan) played me an interview where Toksvig talked about her family’s involvement in a nationwide plan to the evacuate Danish Jews (or as the Danes liked to call them, Danes) from the occupied Denmark. Toksvig had written a short story about it. I’ve got more than a passing interest in the exploits of Scandinavia during the war. In fact, I thought their sacrifice and bravery has never received the recognition it deserved, so I wrote a book about it. I wrote about Norway, but it could just have easily been Denmark.
I didn’t find Toksvig’s short story, but I did find this book, and as you may have already guessed, I think it’s certainly the best YA novel I’ve ever read.
There were 8000 Jews living in Denmark when the Nazis invaded (April 1940). The country was small, and ill-equipped to fight, and so submitted in pretty short order. In fact, the term Hitler’s Canary was coined by the British press, as they now viewed Denmark as a caged bird, singing for the Nazis. Unsurprisingly, as with most things regarding the British press, nothing could be further from the truth.
That’s what this book is about; well, no; it’s about a lot more than that. It’s one of those books which’ll give you something, depending on who you are, and the kind of life you’ve had, I suppose.
It’s the story of a fella called Jesse, who leaves his family and the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the West Midlands, and ends up working as a gay prostitute in London.
On his journey, which begins as a teenager in the sticky throes of sexual awakening, and ends with discovery and salvation, Jesse meets discards and is abandoned by a cast of characters who are so well-drawn you can almost hear them breath. His hideous mother is a rare literary treat, and his step-father, who I’m still quite ambivalent about, is a man who has the kind of problems you’d expect for a white man who’s taken on a black son in a country that is on the verge of losing the tolerance it was once renowned for. As Mendez recounts memories of being constantly asked Where you from?, and other examples of casual and not-so-casual racism (the scene where a mate of his step-father washing a mug Jesse had used as though he’d been sick in it was pure genius – not just because of the writing, but because stuff like this happens so often during the course of your life that it sort of just fades into background. But here it was, so of course it wasn’t just me).
My favourite lockdown binge so far, though it’s kind of hard to describe: a cross between Killing Eve and Jesus Christ Superstar (Jesus even makes a cameo appearance). It’s funny, inventive, has one of the best deadpan cast of characters I’ve ever seen. (Nick Offerman is pure genius), and the script is a pared-down thing of joy. Devs takes place round about now-ish and is the story of a company that is working to develop the holy grail of computer systems: a quantum machine that can
Don’t look if you haven’t see it!
generate a simulation of any event, past, present, or future by calculating the probability of the events connected to it, no matter how distant they are. A bit like a machine that can work through the Butterfly Effect.
Yup, a game-changer, and the shady techs behind it will kill employees, foreign spies and just about anyone else to keep it a secret.
Devs is a slow-burner: the set (especially the computer – they’re actually working inside the computer!) is a work of art. The whole piece is quiet, atmospheric with dialogue that works effortlessly around some pretty mind-blowing concepts: probability, quantum computing, multiple universes: they’ve thrown the whole Sci-Fi manual at it, and still managed to keep it compulsive viewing. As I’ve said, it’s a standout performance by Nick Offerman (remember Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation?) as the haunted CEO of the company, wracked with doubts over what he’s trying to do.