“Do you have the need to know?”
When we were kids our dads did ordinary jobs. They worked in factories or banks or hospitals.
They made things or sold things or mended things - or did they?
The concept of spies and double agents are nothing new to us. For as long as I can remember novels have crowded shelves in bookstores and movies have flowed thick, fast and without pause into cinemas and on to our televisions.
In short, the subject is as familiar and proliferate as the ubiquitous romcom.
But that of course is the world of fiction. This doesn’t actually happen in real life does it?
These people don’t really exist do they?
It seems that Michael Honegger’s family story could indeed have been lifted straight from the pages of a John Le Carre novel, or given the ordinary- even mundane - nature of the central character, more likely one by Len Deighton.
Honegger and his family lived in West Germany between 1959 and 1963, the height of the Cold War. Unbeknownst to his wife and children alongside his "day job" he also worked as a spy for the U.S. Air Force sending agents into East Germany and elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain.
To the young Michael and his family there were certainly some unusual quirks to daily home life.
Hushed conversations and strange radio transmissions.
Anonymous people would drift through their home, occasionally spending the night before silently moving on the following day before sunrise.
Any questions deflected, any suspicions quashed.
“Do you have the need to know?”
Some time after his retirement Honegger Snr relaxed a little and threw a few breadcrumbs to his perplexed son.
Through a sequence of archival family photographs, original work and intricately applied ephemera Michael Honegger has revisited his youth and constructed a narrative (some of which may, or may not be entirely accurate but) which attempts to make sense not only of his father’s duplicitous career but of the man himself.
The design of The Need To Know is a major contributing factor in the success of weaving Honegger’s weblike narrative. A facsimile passport, train ticket and letters are among some of the artefacts either tipped in or laid between pages of an elegant Swiss bound book with an embossed hard cover.
Many of these devices are neither unique or particularly original, having been utilised in a number of titles that have gone before (Honegger himself cites publications such as Christian Patterson's seminal Redheaded Peckerwood as being one notable influence).
They are however, completely appropriate and exquisitely executed and in this interpretation of a jigsaw puzzle of a life enveloped by secrecy, subterfuge and opaque truths, they become the missing pieces that often get lost or misplaced with the passing of time.
It seems likely that we are still - and probably always will be - looking at a fractured and incomplete puzzle but then again would it really be that satisfying or uplifting to see the complete picture.
Do you have the need to know?
Do you really even want to know?
The Need To Know by Michael S. Honegger is published by Blow Up Press in an edition of 800 copies.