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Hopeful Monsters (Catastrophe Practice #5)

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  319 ratings  ·  37 reviews
-- A sweeping, comprehensive epic, Hopeful Monsters tells the story of the love affair between Max, an English student of physics and biology, and Eleanor, a German Jewess and political radical. Together and apart, Max and Eleanor participate in the great political and intellectual movements which shape the twentieth century, taking them from Cambridge and Berlin to the Sp ...more
Paperback, 551 pages
Published May 1st 2000 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published December 1991)
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Nothing at all like I had anticipated and the most pleasant literary surprise I've experienced since Iain Sinclair's Downriver . Incredibly precise and measured, thoughtful almost to the point of ponderousness, philosophically heavy and deft at the same time, working its peculiarly compulsive and latticed progress through a pair of peripatetic and enigmatic souls in the interwar period—Eleanor Anders and Max Ackerman—who experience what might be termed gravitational love, the interlinking of tho ...more
MJ Nicholls
The final instalment (but first in the chronological sequence) of Mosley’s Catastrophe Practice series is also the 89-year-old Baron and Baronet’s masterwork. Chris has written one of those perfect reviews where no more need be said about the book, suffice to say I found Mosley’s stylistic tics often repetitive and his structuring not 100% lucid, hence the withering four stars. On the whole, I agree with Chris’s summary and regret that my take on this sweeping panorama of early 20thC thought is ...more
Quinn Slobodian
Something about this book validates at the same time the savant-like intuitive wander and the time-clock slog to some version of omniscience. To say it's a dark Forest Gump narrative is to give it the highest compliment. Who didn't wish that Gump went darker? We are in the bedroom when Rosa Luxemburg visits, at the Hotel Adlon as the Reichstag burns, in the Russian countryside as the peasants starve, in North Africa when the officers revolt to begin the Spanish Civil War. But it's all lived in a ...more
Good Heavens, so how about a book that relates a German Jew girl, an English boy, atomic bombs, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Franco, Hitler, homosexuality, Communism, Fascism, Schrödingers Cat, fission, pilgrimage, prostitution, war crimes, diamond trade, Hitler, Stalin, Kammerer, genetics, lizzards, Oedipal conflicts, triangular love relations and weird sexual fetishism? And even more? Welcome to 'Hopeful Monsters'. Welcome to one hell of a ride.

I can hear protest coming my way by now. "But Science
I picked this up from one of those book-share shelves because I liked the title. It's a book that does everything I want a novel to do; tell a compelling story with pace, while constantly raising challenging questions and pursuing political and philosophical arguments. Mosley does all of this to an extraordinary standard in this novel, tracing the lives of its characters from the 1930's through the war beyond. Investigations into the characters' interests in science and politics never get in the ...more
Rob Walter
One of the best books I've ever read. The first two hundred pages are the greatest I've ever read. The rest is merely very, very good.

Wonderfully uncertain prose which give the events of the story an ambling lack of direction that reflects the philosophy the author is trying to convey. So this is what literature could be?
Anne Earney
Mar 25, 2011 Anne Earney rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Anne by: brian huelsmann
A fascinating novel of ideas, depicting the early lives of two characters, Max and Eleanor, in an almost epistolatory style, with each of them narrating alternate chapters, addressing the other as "you." The story takes place in Europe in the 1930s, a time of unrest (Nazi Germany, the development of the atomic bomb, the Spanish Civil War). Max and Eleanor make their way as best they can, exploring ideas and nurturing their love. The ideas are the main focus of the novel and it is through their i ...more
A very ambitious novel, part love story, part philosophical treatise. Takes on Darwinism, and Lamarckism, particle physics, the atom bomb, relativity, chance and fate, communism, fascism, creative and destructive forces in human nature, and of course, the nature of love. At times it drags, and the main characters' Freudian relationships with their parents were a bit annoying and heavy-handed. The last chapter tried to wrap up too many threads at once and came off a bit rushed and stilted. But ov ...more
A book of towering ambition so I am sad to say I found it to be an indigestible lump of cellulose, ink and paste and the most I got out of this book was the joy of finally put this prententious dreadful rubbish behind me.

As the author so originally states in the act of observing one changes the nature of what is observed. Looking at the enjoyment this book as brought other reviewers I can only layout what annoyed me so much about this book in the hope that my flaws as an observer become readily
Two notions haunt the characters in this story: the story of the 7 righteous Jews and the biological concept of the "hopeful monsters." Do the actions, choices, etc. of the main characters in facing the social, political, and moral changes occurring in post-World War I Europe mean they are part of the former story? Or are they and do they remain only the "hopeful monsters," creatures born slightly before their time when it's not known if the environment is quite ready for them. It's a clear mora ...more
I loved this book. I first read it many years ago after picking it up in an English-language bookstore in Milan, and I've probably read it a half a dozen times since. Something about the prose is hypnotic. The history is fascinating. The philosophical backdrop is riveting. The romantic student movement that led up to the Nazi regime is something I knew nothing about. And the author's cold-eyed analysis of everyone - Nazis and socialists alike - feels so very true. Finally, I am so, so intrigued ...more
This was truly one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. It slides effortlessly back and forth between to people who grow up between the two world wars, Eleanor, a half-Jewish girl living in Germany, and Max, who lives in England, both with sharply intelligent minds and a deep desire for knowledge and understanding of nature and humankind. As they come of age amidst chaos and horror in Europe, the way the process what they are seeing and experiencing is expressed through their internal dia ...more
Jacob Wren
Nicholas Mosley writes:

Sometimes I walked with Peter Reece as he went about his business in the parish. He would go about on foot: he had a theory that people should normally go about on foot; then there might be time for things to sort themselves out.

I said ‘You believe things do sort themselves out? I mean you do what you have to do, and other people do what they do; and what happens is likely to be all right?’

Peter Reece said ‘What else is God?’

I Said ‘You mean “God” is a word for the fact th
An eloquent and complex novel of ideas - I remember finding this stimulating and enjoyable but would need to read it again to review it properly.
City Lights Bookstore rec - too cerebral and stream of consciousness for me. Wandering bouts into physics, mathematic theory and psychoanalysis all in the backdrop of 1930s Europe got to be a bit much. I never found myself fully satisfied with the character development even of the two main characters, let alone the peripheral ones.
This is an impressive novel, both of ideas and generational arcs. Superbly written and masterfully conceived. Laced with interesting historical insights as well as touching and sincere human moments as we are caught up in the unrelenting currents of time.
Bethany Taylor
It hurt my head to read this...somehow the bulk of the philosophies, scientific break throughs, political movements, and the like, of the 1910s-late 1940s in Europe is a bit dense to absorb. But, worth the effort, the poetry of science is pretty darn nifty.
Goele Lousbergh
Aug 09, 2008 Goele Lousbergh rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who enjoys an intelligent read
Recommended to Goele by: "Thor"
"Afraid that something might not be too little but too much."

Eternal gratitude to Thor, who bought it to cheer me up when Alasdair Gray didn't show for his seminar. It brought me luck because we ran into him five minutes later.
i didn't know who Mosley was till i happened on this WWII novel. he is a genius i guess. this saga takes you from the plain and painful streets of weimer germany to los alamos. and you all know what happened between those two places.
Oct 05, 2008 Peter added it
Abandoned at p. 100 - really well done, but not really what I'm looking for right now. Basically an intellectual history of the 20th century through the eyes of a couple of precocious kids. Very good, but some other time.
Could've been a five-star rating if there were any more beauty to the language. But this one was fascinating, moving, and a true "novel of ideas" -- a blurb that's usually the kiss of death for me.
This is a hard slog. The book is very pretentious. And it's sometimes hard to tell which narrator is talking; they sound a lot alike.
Wonderful in many respects but ultimately not living up to it's potential (or what I initially perceived it's potential to be.)
Jan 31, 2009 Allison rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Marcia
Shelves: readalongtimeago
This needs to be at the top of my re-read list. I'd forgotten about it, and about how love and chaos can run laps together.
Mary Saisselin
one of my fav books. i love the tone and the mystery and the messiness of the love story.
Carol Gregory
This is one of those novels that, if you like it, should be re-read every five years.
this is a fun read which also bring sup some fun sociological/ psychologival issues.
Chris S.
Probably my favorite (and, I think, underrated) "contemporary" novel.
The imagery is poetic, but the writing is too often awkward.
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Nicholas Mosley was born in London on June 25, 1923 and was educated at Eton and Oxford. He served in Italy during World War II, and published his first novel, Spaces of the Dark, in 1951. His book Hopeful Monsters won the 1990 Whitbread Award.

Mosley is also the author of several works of nonfiction, most notably the autobiography Efforts at Truth and a biography of his father, Sir Oswald Mosley,
More about Nicholas Mosley...

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Catastrophe Practice (5 books)
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“But had I not cut the cord? and now was I seeing what happens when there is no gravity. There is indeed nothing, nothing; you are just falling. My father had said once (or was it you?) that the only emotions worth having are ecstasy and despair. I thought - Well yes, but there is also a terror at this nothing.” 7 likes
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