Ronan Bennett (3 stars)

Ronan Bennett

Zugzwang (Bloomsbury)


After being serialised in The Observer in 2006, Irish author Ronan Bennett’s thriller of politics, psychoanalysis and chess gets a fully bound release. It’s 1914. Russia is under the thrall of singularly powerful men, the Bolsheviks and Jews are enemies of the state and the only thing more important than the future of the nation is the upcoming St Petersburg chess tournament.

An apolitical, nominally Jewish psychiatrist, Dr Otto Spethmann, manages to implicate himself in a sticky plot revolving around Bolshevik revolutionaries, the power of the autocracy and checkmates as he finds himself being drawn into a more political position. As a result of Bennett’s own experience of wrongful imprisonment, the novel shines in its vivid psychological depictions and manages to successfully navigate the obvious conceit of linking politics to chess stratagem, proving the adage that it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.

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