St Petersburg, 1914. Dr Otto Spethmann, a famous psychoanalyst, is implicated in a murder. But he is preoccupied with two disturbing new patients: Anna Petrovna, the troubled society beauty with whom he is inappropriately falling in love, and Avrom Rozental, the brilliant chess master who is due to play the most important competition of his life but is on the verge of a breakdown. With the city rife with speculation and alarm, Spethmann must rely on his wits if he wants to save those he loves an escape from a Zugzwang of passion and politics. (Book Cover)
I found this novel by Ronan Bennett on a book clearance table, initially attracted by the intriguing title. So, what does Zugzwang mean?
Zugzwang: Used in chess to describe a deadly position in which a player is obliged to move, but every move ony makes his position even worse.
Do not worry, you do not need to know how to play chess to enjoy this book.
This is a very classy novel that proves less is often more. Bennett has managed to pack in a complex plot with many unexpected twists and turns into only 274 pages. The result is a story with great clarity, intensity and passion.
Ronan Bennett’s Zugzwang is a gripping and dramatic literary thriller that deserves much greater recognition.
What impressed me most about Ronan Bennett’s writing style was his ability to balance an action intensive plot with vivid character development and literary prose.
Rozental received my apology for my absence with indifference. Monomaniacally fixated on chess, he was someone for whom nothing had the slightest meaning except as it affected his freedom to play; the existence of others he understood only in terms of their capacity to help or hinder his obsession. If this is to paint an unattractively selfish picture of my patient, I should emphasize that Rozental’s character was not in the least manipulative, cynical or grandiose. He was a shy and gentle man, with a pathetic aura of sadness, as though perpetually confused by the world and the people in it. Whenever I looked at him, I was put in mind of a child who has lost his parents in a crowd. Chess was Rozental’s life; beyond was a void.
Zugzwang is an edge of your seat thriller for the thinking person, that I could quite easily see in movie format. Ronan Bennett’s prose had me enthralled and I will certainly be seeking out other titles from this extremely talented author.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
Genre: Action, Thriller, Romance, Drama, Literature
Author Information: Ronan Bennett (born 1956) is a Northern Irish novelist and screenwriter.