The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood: Love, jealousy and betrayal in the Bauhaus

Cover image Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game has been on my radar since I discovered it was about the Bauhaus, the German art school whose designs I’ve long admired. It’s one of a multitude of books published to celebrate the movement’s centenary this year. I still have my eye on Theresia Enzensberger’s Blueprint which looks promising but it will have to be a remarkable novel to eclipse Wood’s for me. Beginning in 1922 with the admission of six students whose lives will become inextricably bound, Wood’s novel tells their story through Paul whose memories are brought vividly into focus by the death of Walter, both friend and enemy.

Paul is a talented painter, a skill hardly worth consideration in the Bauhaus school whose emphasis on material and functionality constrasts starkly with the ornate architecture and conservatism of its Weimar home where the local worthies make clear their disapproval of the eccentrically dressed instructors, baptisms of the ‘Bauhaus babes’ and outrageous parties. Paul is quickly smitten by Charlotte, a young Czech, conspicuous in her mannish dress and perfect bob. They become a pair but not a couple, joined by Irmi, Kaspar, Walter and Jenö in an inseparable sixsome. Eager to assert his financial independence, Paul finds work painting extravagantly florid works for rich Americans. When a shocking incident lands Jenö in front of a tribunal, Walter joins Paul determined to earn the money needed to pay off the man Jenö has beaten. Walter has fallen as deeply for Jenö as Paul has for Charlotte, a passion which results in a series of terrible betrayals when it becomes clear that Jenö’s affections lie elsewhere. Meanwhile the brownshirts, for whom the Bauhaus represents everything they both despise and fear, begin their inexorable march to power. When Hitler is elected Chancellor, a decision must be made to stay or go putting love to the test.

Wood explores the nature of love and morality through the story of these six characters weaving her meticulous research lightly through it. She’s the consummate storyteller, foreshadowing events so that we understand the nuance and complexity of these unfolding relationships while maintaining a riveting tension. The Bauhaus detail is fascinating. Wood has a knack of including celebrated members of the movement without a trace of clunkiness and her descriptions of their work are beautiful in their simple clarity:

From the outside you could see many floors at the same time, and the way people disappeared and then materialised made them appear like actors in a jump cut.

This is a story fraught with betrayal, jealousy and a tortured form of love told in the form of a confessional, a tragedy in which the appalling events of Nazi Germany are personalised. It’s a stunning piece of fiction, surely set to appear on a multitude of prize lists and win at least one.

30 thoughts on “The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood: Love, jealousy and betrayal in the Bauhaus”

  1. Ooh how very interesting! Like you, I had been planning to read Blueprint, but perhaps need to start with this one first.

  2. I have wanted to read this ever since you previewed it as one of the July books to look out for. I am so glad it has come up to your expectations. As soon as the Summer School is over this is going straight to the top of the tbr pile.

  3. I thought the name was familiar and it is because Naomi Wood also wrote Mrs Hemingway, which I loved. This is definitely going on the to read list, it sounds wonderful!

    1. Me, too. I loved the way she portrayed the Mrs Hemingways becoming allies/friends. They sure had a lot to put up with! This is just as good, if not better. Hope you enjoy it.

  4. I read the longest article on the Bauhaus earlier this year. It may have been published by the New Yorker? I can’t recall, but it was fabulous. I was so fascinated with the school, the movement. and where it stands today. If I come across it again, I must send it to you!

    1. That would be lovely – thanks so much. I’ve long been fascinated by both the movement and impressed by their designs, spending several happy hours at the Berlin museum.

  5. I’m very keen to read this as I love books set in the art world. There seems to be a bit of a trend for it at the moment what with The Narrow Land and Fake Like Me. I have Blueprint from Netgalley though, so I’ll read it first I think. Great review.

    1. Oh, I’ll be interested to hear what you make of Blueprint, Cathy. Definitely a mini trend in art-themed fiction which attracts me, too. I spotted Neil Hegarty’s The Jewel on the publishing horizon which looks like an interesting addition to it.

  6. I just started the novel last night so have only skimmed your review, but will come back to it once I’ve finished. So far it’s reminding me of The Age of Light and Frieda, which share the 1920s bohemian setting to an extent. I do generally love reading about artists and writers and their whole milieu.

  7. Yay! This one is on my wish list (for all the same reasons it appealed to you). So glad it lived up to expectations (and that gorgeous cover).

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