Wednesday, 16 May 2012

If you're reading this I'm already dead

If you’re reading this I’m already dead – Andrew Nicholl

This is the fictional retelling of the true story of Otto Witte, a Hungarian acrobat who convinced the people of Albania that he was their King, just prior to World War 1. It almost feels as though no more need be said. This is one of those occasions where real life really is stranger than fiction. But what captivatingly written fiction it is. Told in first person our protagonist Otto is making a last desperate attempt to write him memoirs before the Allies drop a bomb on his little tin shack in Berlin. As such the novel shifts continuously between the past, where Otto and his circus friends (including Max, the strongman, Tifty, a former countess and horse trainer, and Professor Von Mesmer and his lovely daughter Sarah), travel from the Austro-Hungarian empire all the way to Albania.

Otto is a wonderfully rich character, and so funny, I found his voice so entertaining and warm to read. Nicholls writing was so conversational as to be almost a stream of consciousness at times, and Otto provided the perfect vehicle for this wonderful story of whimsy and risking it all for the chance of a lifetime. The real Otto Witte was thought to have been insane, or at the very least suffer from a very strong delusion, yet Nicholls has taken this man and given him back his honour – posing the question, if everyone believes you are the King, who are you to gainsay them?

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