The Betrayals Cover
While my library book is a darker shade, the design is similar. Much like the simple yet elegant cover of The Binding.
Reading the Author’s Note, the story was inspired by Hermann Hess’s The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi). I can’t find it in the local library, so maybe one day I will be able to find a copy. It would be interesting to see how the original story created The Betrayals.
The story starts with the Rat, in a beautiful building, she scurries around, trying to stay alive and hidden. Initially, I thought she is the main character, but soon I realise that the main character is a man Léo Martin. His part starts in an office, where he was being urged to return to Montverre to study the Grand Jeu, instead of maintaining his position as Minister of Culture. It is obvious that Léo is forced, either obey or disappear entirely.
As he returns to his old school, where he was a winner of one of the competition years ago (which gave him the opportunity to become a Minister of Culture) without the passion for the game. Strictly speaking, the Grand Jeu is not a game, but an art of combining movement, music, maths and so on. From the start till the finish, the author never elaborated on what it is. Despite its ever presence, the story is not about the game.
Perhaps we can say Grand Jeu is in how the characters dance with each other, figuratively speaking.
Claire Dryden is the most unconventional character in the book, because she is the only female teacher who is also a Magister Ludi, in a school filled with male students and teachers. Oh yes, the Grand Jeu school only admits the male gender *shocking* I know. It is also by chance/ blind voting that she became a Magister. Her Grand Jeu game was written so well that the other teachers thought she couldn’t have been possible a girl. Everyone can play the game, but boys have the chance to study it.
Léo Martin’s life begins to unravel the day he opposed the new Culture policy, where books of certain qualities are banned. I’m not talking smut or poor writing, but works of Aristotle and the like. Works that inspires thinking, and understanding of self. By now I think you suspect something about the politics, but it is always a threat to poor Léo. Throughout the book, he and the reader receives frequent reminders on how Big Brother is always watching.
Aimé Carfax de Courcey exists only in Léo’s past, which makes it extra hard to follow when Léo’s present and past mixes into a blur in Monteverre. The complex relationship between friend with a lot of rivalry makes it interesting. Not to mention something simmering in the background.
This is not a book you can read and one go, even the Binding took a week for me to appreciate in full the multiple layers. Yes, parts can be slow, it is like the Grand Jeu, the whole book is like as she describes the game. She combines various thoughts and autocracies, mixes in with love and kindness for each other, makes a few characters dance to her tune. A subtle hint that we might be dancing to a tune that we cannot hear, that is life. The twist I definitely did not see coming makes it worth the days of reading…
If you are familiar with her work, then by all means try it. The Betrayals is not a book that is always fast or always slow; it is indeed like Beethoven’s symphonies (my own opinion only): the loud bits that are full of energy and conflict, followed by sneaking around trying to be quiet, then some happy punctuations before another conflict. You do need some patience to read it, but it will be rewarding when you reach the end.
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