At first glance, Michael Arditti’s new novel looks as if it belongs to that category of one-word abstract-noun titles pioneered by Ronald Firbank (Vainglory, Caprice, etc). In fact, ‘Unity’ turns out to refer not to some lofty dream of personal or communal alliance but to the Hon Unity Mitford, the fourth of Lord Redesdale’s six luminous daughters, who spent some years in Berlin as a Nazi groupie before shooting herself non-fatally in the head on the day that war was declared; returned to England by a solicitous Führer (Lord Redesdale insisted on paying his expenses), she survived a further nine years. Rather than merely recreating her life, Unity tells the story behind the making of an aborted biopic, shot on location in Germany and England forty years later, whose catastrophic consequences Arditti now attempts to unpick.
The historical triptych thereby coaxed into view is rendered all the more devious by its calculated blurring of the line between fact and fiction, softened to the point where Arditti features in the text himself. The personal appearance is, of course, a fixture of the contemporary novel. Tim Lott’s recent