Fortune by Lenny Bartulin, is a gripping, globe-spanning historical epic.
In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Prussia. Beginning on the very day he leads his triumphant Grande Armee into Berlin through the Brandenburg Gate, Fortune traces the fates of a handful of souls whose lives briefly touch on that momentous day and then diverge across the globe.
Spanning more than a century, the novel moves from the Napoleonic Wars to South America, and from the early penal settlement of Van Diemen’s Land to the cannons of the First World War, mapping the reverberations of history on ordinary people. Some lives are willed into action and others are merely endured, but all are subject to the unpredictable whims of chance. Fortune is a historical novel like no other, a perfect jewel of epic and intense brilliance.
‘A thrilling tale of adventure told across centuries and continents…It made me laugh and cry and swear with astonishment. It is savage and nihilistic, wise and kind, never less than gripping, and it is over far sooner than you want it to be. And every line is marked with the author’s unmistakable stylistic signature: somewhere between Roger Federer at the net and Mick Jagger’s rooster strut.’ — Geordie Williamson, Chief Literary Critic, The Australian
(Allen & Unwin, 2019)
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I have been a fan of Lenny Bartulin’s writing for some time. His narrative style is one of artistry and poetic precision delivered with disarming irreverence. I highly recommend his enthralling ‘historical Australian western’ novel Infamy and the snappy prose in his Jack Susko Mystery Series.
For context, it is also worth pointing out that I cannot get enough of novels that feature interwoven stories, e.g. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas ranks as one of my all time favourites.
Fortune reads like a global adventure puzzle, with alternating narratives and complex character sets. Lenny Bartulin provides readers only bite size windows into moments of different characters lives, and alternates between each at pace. Some life paths intersect or are influenced by others, and some characters appear only briefly. In this way Bartulin depicts the often fickle nature of things and the great extent to which circumstances lasting mere seconds (those sliding doors moments) can have irrevocable and long term impact on history.
This philosophical, sliding door concept has always appealed to me, and so I found this satirisation of history amusing. In many respects it is how I see the world, but not necessarily how others do. Those who prescribe to the omnibenevolent deity theory may not be quite so enamoured.
Confronting subject matter
Bad things happen in this novel. Appalling things. And they are all the more confronting because Bartulin depicts them in such a matter-of-fact manner. It is for this reason (along with that I mentioned above) that Fortune could be quite polarising.
But history has shown, we humans can be our own worst enemies in many respects. Not so long ago, society endorsed abhorrent treatment of people based on their skin colour. Being reminded of that is not a bad thing. The key for me, just like every other action of characters within this novel (likeable or otherwise), they are not rationalised by the narrator.
But just as in life,
(1) for all that is bad, there are characters that display kindness, loyalty and respect that surpasses station or skin colour, and
(2) for the readers’ pleasure sometimes the fickle hands deal out karma in darkly humorous and ironic ways.
For the right reader, Fortune will engage and delight. I was enthralled by the historical puzzle, gripped by the character connections and disappointments (so tantalisingly close at times) and entertained by the colour and thrilling pace of Lenny Bartulin’s storytelling.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.25
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Genre: Action-Adventure, Literature, Historical, Thriller
Lenny Bartulin, Author
Lenny Bartulin’s previous novel, Infamy, was longlisted in the 2015 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards, for the Tasmania Book Prize and the Margaret Scott Prize. In 2010, the second novel in his Sydney Noir Trilogy, The Black Russian, was shortlisted in the Ned Kelly Awards for Best Novel. He has published poetry and short stories in various journals, including Heat, Meanjin and Island Magazine. He has lived in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, and currently resides in Hobart with his wife and son.
* My receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.