Act of Oblivion is a book I was recommended and lent by a good friend. He’s a big fan of historical fiction and rated Act of Oblivion as a book that I definitely needed to pick up and read. It focuses on a story that I don’t think a lot of people know about but one which is actually really interesting! The problem when you write historical fiction based on a real story is if the story isn’t deeply fleshed out in real life then you’ve really got to fill out the book with other details. Does Robert Harris do this enough here?
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Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris focuses on the tale of one of the greatest manhunts in history: the search for the two men who were involved in the killing of King Charles 1. It covers the chase across the world with Richard Naylor, secretary of the regicide committee of the Privy Council, (god knows what that is) chasing these two men in hopes to bring them to justice.
Act of Oblivion plot – 4/5
Act of Oblivion, as I said above, tells the tale of General Edward Whalley and his son-in-law Colonel William Goffe and their escape from England after their involvement of the beheading of King Charles I and their support for Oliver Cromwell. Richard Naylor is assigned the job of chasing them as far as he needs to bring them back to the King (King Charles II at this point) to face trial.
The majority of the book is Whalley and Goffe being out of reach of Naylor and so it often feels like not a lot of action is happening. I’m someone who relies on plot, action or some wonderful dialogue to keep my interest and I feel like this book just lacked that a little bit.
And this is what I meant with my comment in the opening paragraph – when you’re writing a book about an actual historical event, it’s not always the easiest to fill in the unknown details and to build a world and story around it all. Act of Oblivion suffers a lot from the ‘nothing is really happening’ problem that some historical fiction books suffer from. However, I must say the final third of the book is fantastic and almost completely redeems the book with a fantastic and page-flipping ending.
Act of Oblivion characters – 4.5/5
However, one thing I must say about Act of Oblivion is that the characters are brilliant. Nayler himself, despite being the “villain” is a brilliant character – he’s wonderfully evil, he’s manipulative and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep his secret quiet and to get his men. He manages all of this without ever appearing too fictional, too evil or unbelievable in any way. He’s a real testament to Harris’s clear talent for writing some brilliant characters.
This leads on to Goffe and Whalley too who are both very likeable characters. They form a bond during their journeys, meeting different people along their way, some whom they learn to trust and others whom they quickly learn care more for themselves.
I would say the characters are the strongest part of this book, holding the filler sections between the proper action up well.
Act of Oblivion overall rating – 4
Act of Oblivion is a book based on the fascinating story of how two young men were chased across America and then Europe with a bounty on their heads for the killing of King Charles I. The story suffers from some really slow moments where Harris is trying to fill in actual events but these slower moments are held up by the great characters of Whalley and Goffe and their connection. My highlights were Naylor, the villain character chasing them and his thoughts throughout and the final third of the book where the action really ramped up.
If you liked the sound of this book, here are of my other reviews you may enjoy: