“Read then reread in order to fully grasp the subtleties of the story” – In Camera by Nicholas Royle and David Gledhill

icnrSet in East Germany during the height of the Cold War, the novel, told in a series of vignettes, centres on the life of young girl and her brother. They are playful and mischievous as all young children are. They spy on their father, who is a doctor, as he examines patients in his clinic. They play tricks on him while he writes up his case notes. If it wasn’t the German Democratic Republic you’d imagine it was a prosperous family anywhere in Europe during the 1950s post-war boom.

The main protagonist in the novel is the doctor’s daughter. She is fascinated by her father’s new camera and resolves to discover how it works. So with childlike innocence she disobeys her father and borrows the camera and begins to take photographs of the world about her. As a doctor, the girl’s father would have been susceptible to surveillance for two reasons. Firstly, because of his profession it would have been assumed he would attempt to escape to the west. Secondly doctors would be seen to have their patients trust and a doctor’s surgery would have been seen as the one place where patients felt they could safely divulge any secrets they had. As mentioned in the novel he would have been seen as being an unofficial collaborator. Because of this a recording devise is placed in the doctors home.

Each vignette is accompanied by the reproduction of a photograph. The photographs were discovered by artist David Gledhill in a flea market in Frankfort and have their origin in the old GDR. How the photographs, part of a family album, made their way there is a story we will never know. The photographs reproduced are small and sepia coloured with each one enhancing the already stifling claustrophobic atmosphere conveyed in the story.  The story moves through time. We observe the girl as she marries and moves to West Germany with her husband. Then we earwig a conversation she has on a lunch date with an old friend. The conversation, which is testy, centres on people viewing their Stasi files. The tension builds slowly and you are left with the feeling that neither of these old friends actually like each other.

In Camera is a very subtly told story. The legal term In Camera, Latin for “in chambers,” refers to a hearing or discussions with the judge in the privacy of his or her chambers or when spectators and jurors have been excluded from the courtroom. In this instance the spectators are the all intrusive Stasi and nothing and nowhere is immune to their all seeing eye. Throughout the novel the language used is neat, precise and exact. Not one word is superfluous.

Any Cop?: For the reader’s benefit it is highly recommended that this novel is read then reread in order to fully grasp the subtleties of the story.


Joe Phelan



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