HISTORY might be written by the victors, but historical novels tend to be the province of the losers. Although David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife and Adam Roberts' Yellow Blue Tibia are very different, but equally engaging, novels, they both are concerned with the human jetsam left behind by the tide of history. Moreover, they fulfil that vision by marrying the complexity and depth of "literary" work with the energy and velocity of "popular" fiction.
Good, eh? He goes on:
Roberts is a very witty writer, and there are moments of superb slapstick here (in particular, a scene where a KGB interrogator gets confused). Skvorecky has a mantra about "third ways" – "Time runs forwards. Or it runs backwards. One of the two. But it must do one of those two things, and there cannot be a third thing it does" – which becomes increasingly untenable as the narrative progresses.
The novel's conceit is driven by the fact that Soviet propaganda and sci-fi clichés are often indistinguishable – Stalin's name means literally Man of Steel – and the gap between rhetoric and reality gives a vivid insight into the absurdities of totalitarian collapse. History – possible histories, probable histories, secret histories – become the nemesis of Soviet "Destiny". "Comedy quantum agitprop" might be completely new genre of novel.
Both novels deal with major issues without hectoring the reader; both inform and entertain simultaneously. Who said the literary novel was dead?
I like Comedy Quantum Agitprop so much I shall include it as a new tag on this very site. Most excellent.