Iain Pears continues to astonish me with his range and flexibility, and this book did not disappoint in the least. Anyone who can seamlessly meld highIain Pears continues to astonish me with his range and flexibility, and this book did not disappoint in the least. Anyone who can seamlessly meld high-end physics, pastoral innocence, and 1950s Oxford professors is clearly a master.
The writing is so good that the words practically disappear so the story (the Story?) shoots straight into your head, the characters are vivid and engaging, and the plot...well, my mind is now officially blown. I did not see how the various strands could possibly come together but they did -- Pears links all three of the "worlds" whose stories he is telling into one that is chilling, inspiring, frightening, exciting, at the same time wildly improbably and all too plausible.
Don't try to hurry though this, whatever you do. This is a book to be savored and absorbed and pondered, not raced through and then tossed aside. The physics weirdness alone forces you to do some serious yoga with your brain; add in prose that is both supple and humorous, an obvious love of language and an appreciation of the power of stories to both expand and limit our minds, and what you have is something that is equally style and substance.
This is not a fluffy summer beach read that you can pick up for five minutes here and there. Set aside some serious time to get lost in it. You'll be glad you did....more
I liked this book, but I'm not at all sure that I understood it. The writing is compelling, almost hypnotic -- I found it difficult to put down -- butI liked this book, but I'm not at all sure that I understood it. The writing is compelling, almost hypnotic -- I found it difficult to put down -- but I always felt as if the actual meaning was hidden just around the next corner. Or as if the true meaning had trickled out of the sentences just before I got there, leaving only enough shape to hint (or misdirect?) as to what was going on. Mulholland Drive meets Borges, Jorge meets The Guns of the South?
This is a story about...well, I'm not just sure. It's about Geli Raubal (but not the real one). It's about Dania, a woman who isn't Geli Raubal (except sort of, in someone else's head). It's about Banning Jainlight, who is in love with Dania (or maybe he just invents her). It's about Jainlight's pornographic stories about Dania (or maybe they're true stories of his love affair with her). It's about "the most evil man in the world," i.e. Hitler, who is obsessed with Jainlight's porn about Dania because in his head it's about Geli Raubal, (and who ends up a sad, pathetic, senile old man). It's about Marc, the son of Hitler and Dania, or maybe Jainlight and Dania, or maybe just Dania herself (or maybe he's fictional too).
All these people cross back and forth between realities, or maybe between reality and unreality, in a weird braiding of time and space. Some of them seem to have doppelgangers, or alternate versions of themselves, like Jainlight/Blaine, or Dania/Geli; sometimes their worlds intersect or bleed into one another; sometimes one is the other's dream. It's never clear what's real and what isn't. The most extreme example may be the silver buffalo, which you'd think pretty much have to be a metaphor since they come perpetually pouring out of a black cave and some people can't even see them, but yet they're substantial enough to trample Dania's mother to death in Africa and rampage through the streets of Davenhall Island off the coast of Washington state. Are they the hours and minutes of one reality pouring out into another?
But the book is also about love and hate and cruelty and pity and obsession and fear and loneliness and forgiveness and good and evil. The main character, Jainlight, refers to Hitler as the most evil man in the world, and about himself and occasionally the entire twentieth century as irredeemably evil, but I ended up thinking that this book is much more about the redemptive power of love/forgiveness, although it's sort of tucked into the corners of the story as it were. I don't know what Erickson's intent was, but I ended up feeling desperately sad for every single person in this story, even crazy senile pathetic old man Hitler.
If all of this makes it sound like the book is strange and puzzling and perhaps unsettling, that's good because it is. Don't let that stop you from reading it. But don't expect a straightforward narrative: it's more like a spiral or a double helix or one of those complicated Spirograph patterns.
(NB: I have to admit the metaphor of the "black clock" was entirely lost on me -- no idea what that was meant to be about. Why black? Why a clock? What is this about numbers falling? Why is Marc listening for ticking icebergs at the end??)...more
It's got the Spanish flu epidemic, World War II, and time travel (sort of). What more do you need?
It's a little disturbing to be confronted with how vIt's got the Spanish flu epidemic, World War II, and time travel (sort of). What more do you need?
It's a little disturbing to be confronted with how very many ways there are that a life can be ended, from the impersonal attack of a virus to the highly personal attach of a spouse. It's a toss-up which is worse to read, the child deaths or the murder-by-psycho-husband. I came away from this book with a certain sense of astonishment that I'd made it safely to the ripe old age of (mumble).
Perhaps the most poignant is the life during which Ursula fully realizes at last what she is experiencing, and decides to actively use that knowledge as an offensive weapon, not just a defensive one: her family things she's crazy, of course, and she ends up committing suicide just so she can get on with her next life and murder Hitler.
An interesting, unusual, and for the most part successful book....more
The story is King's take on the classic change-the-past-to-improve-the-future trope (I think Hitler and JFK are probably tied for favorite charactersThe story is King's take on the classic change-the-past-to-improve-the-future trope (I think Hitler and JFK are probably tied for favorite characters to kill/not kill in this scenario).
To power the tension, King employs a variation of the Novikov self-consistency principle in which history actively resists being altered; the greater the alteration, the stronger and more violent the resistance to changes. Thus the main character has to battle all sorts of apparent coincidences that threaten to thwart his effort to save Kennedy, right up to the very last moment. And then of course, King being King, things turn out to be not at all as expected and the main character is faced with one final, painful choice.
King does a wonderful job evoking small-town life in the 1960s; for my money, he's as good as Faulkner or Twain at capturing the essence of America, it's lovable quirks and peculiar combination of hard-headed practicality and mystic holy-roller sense of begin special. He includes a few classic 1950s/1960s set pieces like the high school dance (no hot rods or drag racing, though!), but also some good scenes where the main character runs up against something which today we take for granted, but which back then would have been unthinkable.
This is Stephen King the way I like him best: the consummate storyteller, creating a vivid sense of time and place, peopling his tale with characters you can honestly cheer for. Although the book of necessity spans about five years, not once was I bored or tempted to hurry through. For what it's worth, this is also the only King novel ever that made me cry at the end :)...more