4 out of 4 stars
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Not long after college, John Gowan of Blanworth sets up an architecture firm, Gowan Partnerships, together with his friend, Pete Williams. Business is going well, but not over the top. An opportunity arises when least expected.
Zenith Star is a wholesale clothing company. On a trip to Israel, the chairman’s son, Wilkinson Junior, makes some disparaging remarks about Muslims wanting to take back land from the Israelis. In a chain reaction, terrorists blow up the Zenith building, a faceless modern glass construction.
Shocked by the event, John visits the site of the explosion. Although he feels compassion for the victims of the attack, he cannot help himself dreaming to design the new Zenith building. He has an accident on his way home and wakes up in a hospital three and a half years later. The problem is he thinks the accident took place the previous day. What is more, everybody assumes he is the architect of the new Zenith building, a genuine masterpiece. What is real and what is imaginary?
The Freedom Building by Martin Kendall is a psychological novel featuring a protagonist whose battle with his inner demons becomes more fascinating than any action-driven narration. Even if it is written in the third person, the novel focuses exclusively on John Gowan’s complex psychological life. For any psychologist or psychoanalyst, his amnesia would be an excellent case study. My favorite parts of the novel are those in which the narrator minutely describes John’s confusion and sense of loss.
Considering that this is a psychological novel, you might expect it to have a slow pace. On the contrary, I felt the plot development was quite exciting. Because of his amnesia, John is unable to look at the building plans or to see the actual building. Whenever he tries to do that, time dilates, he loses focus, and even faints. Fearing for his position as chief architect of the building, he hides the truth about his amnesia from everybody else. Like an undercover cop, he needs to do everything in his power not to blow up his cover. His more and more elaborate manoeuvres to stay under the radar add much tension and suspense to the overall plot.
The guessing game is perhaps the greatest strength of the novel. We never know what will happen next. In fact, we do not even know whether to like John or not. We only have access to his version of the story. As the events unfold, we start putting together various bits and pieces about his personality. He might think justice is on his side, yet we start having doubts. Why does Hillary, his wife, file for divorce? Did he actually design the masterpiece plans of the Zenith building or was it Pete, his partner?
Another thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel was the wide range of its topics. Through John’s eyes, the author tackles topics such as friendship, love, professional success, terrorism, or freedom. For example, John’s remarks during a television interview spark a nation-wide debate on the meaning and limitations of personal and collective freedom.
I have nothing to complain about this novel. It is excellently edited with only a handful of minor punctuation mistakes and two instances of offensive words triggered by a character’s justifiable anger. Taking all things into account, I am giving Martin Kendall’s The Freedom Building 4 out of 4 stars. Last but not least, I am recommending it to those who are fond of character-driven novels with a psychological vein and a surprising ending. I can assure you it will make you reflect on many challenging issues like the reliability of memory, individual happiness, the thin line between truth and deception, and the reasons behind terrorist acts.
The Freedom Building
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