The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. Gollancz ‘8.99

Reviewed by John Howard

Ian McDonald’s latest novel is set in Istanbul during a single working week in April 2027 as the city swelters under another heatwave. The small but diverse cast of main characters are linked by their various associations with the Dervish House itself ‘ the place they live or work, whether legally or not. That rambling and almost semi-magical survival from the Ottoman Empire is the story’s unquiet still centre where minorities and faiths marooned by history still hold on, and past traumas and regrets persist in the shadows.

On Monday morning a suicide bombing on a crowded tram starts the weaving-together of many apparently unconnected strands: the events in a developing pattern that takes until the Friday to materialise, and then only to those with the eyes and technology to see. The residents and users of the Dervish House relate to each other, and in different ways confront a range of forces ‘ other people, corporations, agencies ‘ that seem quite beyond their control and threaten to overwhelm them, to do serious damage to Istanbul, and possibly the world.

McDonald establishes context with glimpses and builds background mainly through deft observation, hints and memories. His Istanbul is Turkey in microcosm, straddling Europe and Asia, suspended between an imperial religious past and a national secular present. Its roads to the future lie ahead, uncertain, high in mid-air like the congested carriageways of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Dervish House offers the vision of an Istanbul transformed into something beyond the mere location for the engrossing and hair-raising thriller relentlessly unfolding in its streets and hidden spaces. I wished for a map to follow the action (and there’s plenty of it). Above all I wanted simply to absorb the many moods of Istanbul, to encounter the ancient yet ever-new creation so appropriately venerated as the ‘Queen of Cities’.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. Gollancz ‘8.99

Reviewed by John Howard

Ian McDonald’s latest novel is set in Istanbul during a single working week in April 2027 as the city swelters under another heatwave. The small but diverse cast of main characters are linked by their various associations with the Dervish House itself ‘ the place they live or work, whether legally or not. That rambling and almost semi-magical survival from the Ottoman Empire is the story’s unquiet still centre where minorities and faiths marooned by history still hold on, and past traumas and regrets persist in the shadows.

On Monday morning a suicide bombing on a crowded tram starts the weaving-together of many apparently unconnected strands: the events in a developing pattern that takes until the Friday to materialise, and then only to those with the eyes and technology to see. The residents and users of the Dervish House relate to each other, and in different ways confront a range of forces ‘ other people, corporations, agencies ‘ that seem quite beyond their control and threaten to overwhelm them, to do serious damage to Istanbul, and possibly the world.

McDonald establishes context with glimpses and builds background mainly through deft observation, hints and memories. His Istanbul is Turkey in microcosm, straddling Europe and Asia, suspended between an imperial religious past and a national secular present. Its roads to the future lie ahead, uncertain, high in mid-air like the congested carriageways of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Dervish House offers the vision of an Istanbul transformed into something beyond the mere location for the engrossing and hair-raising thriller relentlessly unfolding in its streets and hidden spaces. I wished for a map to follow the action (and there’s plenty of it). Above all I wanted simply to absorb the many moods of Istanbul, to encounter the ancient yet ever-new creation so appropriately venerated as the ‘Queen of Cities’.