Brad's Reviews > The Fifth Head of Cerberus

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
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Jan 01, 2012

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bookshelves: forty-for-2012-personal-challenge, mieville50, new-novella, philosophical, political, sci-fi
Read from March 10 to 24, 2012 , read count: 1

I feel a failure now that I've finished The Fifth Head of Cerberus. It is good. Very good. I see that. But I can only muster mild "like" for the thing, and I feel as though I must have missed something along the way in my insomnia reading haze. And I can't really see myself going back to redress the situation because I just don't feel connected to Gene Wolfe's work.

I read what Ursula K. LeGuin says about the book,
A subtle, ingenious, poetic and picturesque book; the uncertaintly principle embodied in brilliant fiction...
and I think, "Yep, but meh." And then I read what China Miéville says about the book,
[[author:Gene Wolfe]'s] tragico-Catholic perspective leads to a deeply unglamorized and unsanitized awareness of social reality. This book is a very sad and extremely dense, complex meditation on colonialism, identity and oppression.
and I think, "Mmmhmm, but still..." And I enjoy the three novella = novel structure, but the manufactured obscurity makes me cold. And I appreciate the struggles of the three protagonists, but I only ever flirt with investing myself in their conflicts. And I see Wolfe playing with the themes that people venerate this work for, but I can't quite put my finger on anything that I can personally take away.

So I walk away from the book unmoved and uninspired, yet I see its quality. I really do. So please don't avoid this book because of me. I probably missed something crucial. The fault for my lack of excitement is likely my own -- or my lack of sleep's. Whichever it is, though, I will never know. Sorry, Mr. Wolfe. I'll try to do better next time I read one of your books.
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Reading Progress

03/12/2012 "I had no expectations going into this book, other than that it was probably going to be brilliant, so the fact that Wolfe is so clearly an inspiration to Iain M. Banks is a wonderful surprise. I find myself waiting for a Culture cameo, which I know won't be coming."
06/28/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Traveller I await your review with interest


Brad I'm afraid my review will be a bit of a disappointment, Traveller. I am going to go read yours and see if it helps me out a bit.


message 3: by Traveller (last edited Mar 24, 2012 01:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller Boo, I read it too long ago to be able to review it. Will have to re-read it to review it. What I do remember about it, is that it attempts to play around with your head. Yes, Gene Wolfe is like that.

I think I can agree with your assessment that this specific book doesn't really "grab" one on a character level. It tries too hard to be clever.

The Gene Wolfe books that really grabbed me, was the "Books of the New Sun" cycle, and especially the first one, The Shadow of the Torturer .


Traveller Crud, I see I have no review there on SOTT. I thought I had one. I'll have to write one if it's not hiding someplace else... ok, give me another day to do it.


Brad Added it, Traveller. That will be my next Wolfe.


Traveller Brad wrote: "Added it, Traveller. That will be my next Wolfe."

The book has caused quite a bit of controversy, with some people not liking it, and others loving it. I can tell you that that is one book I love to discuss, so have at it!

I do hope you enjoy it more than the current one under review.


Terry For what it's worth I pretty much have the same kind of reaction with Wolfe. I think he does a little too much on the obscurantism and not enough on the engagement with the reader.

I love his Wizard-Knight duology (though I had to work for that), but I just can't force myself through his Long Sun series anymore (it's sad to me that a series with generation starships, robot soldiers, digital gods, space vampires, and body possessing teenage psychos is boring).


Traveller Note to Brad: You need to differentiate between the Long Sun series and the New Sun series. Wolfe seems to have a thing with the sun.


Brad Thanks for the tip, T.


Thomas Baughman Yep. There is a Long Sun series, A New Sun series, and a Short Sun series.


message 11: by Lee (new)

Lee Broderick I'm reading The Gormenghast Novels right now and I'm experiencing the same thing. I know they're good - I can see they are, but some how it's just not quite engaging me on a level I'd hope for.


Mariel I was fully hooked by Peace. Cerebrus is interesting, sometimes more so in theory (kinda didn't like the second


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