The library had Something to Hide.

No, no. The typography is wrong in that title: it should be “The library had Something to Hide,” not “The library had something to hide.” Something to Hide is the latest novel by Elizabeth George; I had to wait for it for a long time, as so many readers wanted it, and that meant that I had to return it quickly. So I picked the audiobook version, since I could return the CDs quickly, as I couldn’t do with the hard-cover version. That would take too long to read, and there were many other library patrons champing at the bit for this book: one advantage of the audio version is that I can copy it onto my iPhone in an hour or so and then listen to it at my leisure.

The other advantage, at least in this case, is that I can listen to Simon Vance’s wonderful audio interpretation of the text. He carefully distinguishes all of the many characters, one from the other, and his reading is 100% convincing, so that the listener absolutely feels that they are right there amidst the people and the action. He somehow makes Elizabeth George’s conversations sound totally real, despite the lack of profanity and the typical British class issues.

I always enjoy George’s Lynley/Havers novels, and this one is no exception. Professional and amateur reviews were overwhelming positive, but I do need to mention that two types of negative reactions were sprinkled among the comments from amateur readers:

  • Some thought it was overly long. But that’s ridiculous: it’s barely over 700 pages, a length that is absolutely necessary to immerse the reader thoroughly in the characters and the situations.
  • And some readers had political objections. Personally, I have little or no patience for such reactions, as works of art should be judged on the basis of their quality, not on what you think of the creator. YMMV, of course.

But you are entitled to know the nature of some readers’ political objections. Most of them are predictably along the lines of complaining that Elizabeth George has become “woke”: instead of being properly white English males, too many of her characters are now…wait for it…either black or female, or…horrors…both black and female! Intertwined with that grievance is a discomfort with one of the themes of the story: female genital mutilation (FGM) as practiced by Nigerian immigrants in the U.K. Surely the readers who have a problem with that theme are not in favor of FGM, so it must be that they’re uncomfortable with the entire idea, or they don’t know how to handle the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously opposing FGM and cultural imperialism.

You can try to ignore all that and just get involved in the story. But you can’t really ignore it, as it’s too central to the plot. Just one warning: don’t think that the issues are just black-and-white, so to speak. The characters are well developed—there’s that 700-pages thing again—and complex enough to be approached in shades of gray. Be sure to pay careful attention when you start to approach the ending, as there are several twists that may turn your preconceptions on their head.

It’s clear from the content—and also clear from interviews with the author—that George had done a very thorough research job before writing Something to Hide. Not that I am in the least an expert on the various cultural, linguistic, and geographical issues that permeate the story, but I do have to say that absolutely everything rang true while I listened to Vance read the narrative.

Categories: Books