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A Case of Curiosities

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  474 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
In France, on the eve of the Revolution, a young man named Claude Page sets out to become the most ingenious and daring inventor of his time. In the course of a career filled with violence and passion, Claude learns the arts of enameling and watchmaking from an irascible, defrocked abbé, apprentices himself to a pornographic bookseller, and applies his erotic erudition to ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published August 10th 2001 by Harvest Books (first published 1992)
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Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reread, historical
I read this book years ago and loved it. Just read it again - still love it. It is such an idiosyncratic piece, so smart and funny and well written, and so filled with a love of ideas, words, objects and people. The level of research required to paint this detailed a picture of pre-Revolutionary France is astonishing.

The cast of characters is wonderful - Claude, the young country boy whose dream is to make a mechanical talking head, his first patron, the defrocked Jesuit Abbe whose love of all k
Aug 15, 2012 rated it liked it
A cabinet filled with curious objects recounts the life of one Claude Page, an artist and inventor born poor in rural France and destined for a strange, evolving adolescence. A Case of Curiosities has an expected humor to its narration, a slyness and whimsical satire (and a dogged, adolescent obsession with sex) which threatens to grow excessive over 350 pages ("He was sorry that her presence in his life was so limited, like some minor character in a historical narrative who pops up and leaves w ...more
Dana Simpson
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an exceptional read. Kurwell really drew me in. The story was so full of detail, and so original! I loved how the boy got so involved with puppets, later making mechanical ones, regardless of the dying practice of puppetry. The story was as intricately as the puppets, detailed descriptions of the shop's window displays. This is a fantastic read!!!
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A sheer joy. I just wish I had've started alias of all the uncommon words I came across - I'd be unbeatable in Scrabble!
Leslie Graff
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of novel I always enjoy - historic fiction with an overt structure that makes overt the traits of historic fiction. I love the conceit of the work with each section of the case assigned an object, especially as you don't always understand the relationship of the section to the object until the end. The structure never feels forced and I often forgot it until I'd get to the end of a section. Likewise, I forgot the sort of author's wink at the beginning and end as I was reading, u ...more
Aug 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Claude Page is growing up in the French Pyrenees in Pre-revolutionary France. His father was a watchmaker but had died while in Turkey. His mother is a herbalist. Claude is apprenticed to a local disenfranchised cleric.

He first learns to enamel, making some bawdy pieces the abbe can sell to cover his debts. Then Claude learns about watchmaking. Claude is a whiz at anything mechanical.

Eventually Claude leaves the abbe to travel to Paris. He loves mechanical things and wishes to make a talking hea
Jun 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, history, own-it
An interesting story of a fictional French peasant boy, the son of a watchmaker, who learns the mechanical trades through his own native intelligence and with the aid of an eccentric band of characters. While interesting, and full of historical details and descriptions of Paris, the story itself seemed rather obtuse. The young man, Claude, endures some tedious sidetracks in pursuing his dream, but somehow this reader had difficulty drumming up much empathy for his plight. And in the end, the cro ...more
May 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
An erudite disappointment..all sauce and no meat.Kurzweil's love of playful language, while clever, doesn't disguise the fact that there is basically no plot,no believable characters and no more reason to read this novel than to look at a few shiny geegaws.I love this period in French history and enjoy whimsical,bizarre characters,arcane references, and detailed descriptions of people and place that make the time come alive, but not when there is well, no point to it all. For satire of the Frenc ...more
The Twins
May 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Interesting insight into French life just before the French Revolution. it is beautifully composed and has a very likable main character with Claude Page and his friends.
so great! Kurzweil is a great storyteller, mixing fact and humor. Great vocabulary. This book has me laughing out loud.
Jun 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
If you are a polymath you will love this.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-in-english
My main problem with this book is that the brilliant pieces of writing are drowned by the really pretentious story making.
Ever time I felt as close to the characters as I could be, there would be a terribly long passage following the brilliant piece that just confused me.
May 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended by my then librarian, and spot on, too. I love curiosity cases and intricate stories.
Andy Todd
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Comic, erotic, imaginative romp through 18th century France and the world of automata.
Mar 20, 2008 added it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I didn't finish this book. (4-11-08) I've read the first 34 pages and liked them and the interesting development of character, but I read the back of the book (something I usually avoid to not spoil part of the book) and discovered that Claude "apprentices himself to a pornographic bookseller, and applies his erotic erudition to the seduction of the wife of an impotent wigmaker." If anyone has read this book and it's not as bad as it sounds let me know and I'll finish it. His children's books ar ...more
Ronald Wise
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Claude Page, a bright and talented boy from a remote village in the French Pyranees, receives local mentorship which changes the course of his life and brings him to Paris during the French Revolution. While I never quite understood his obsession with creating a mechanical talking head, I like to believe I received from this book accurate information as to the state of science and engineering from that period. This novel came to my list via Nancy Pearl's Book Lust reading list "Mechanical Men, R ...more
Oct 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
From my Summer Reading List blog post (May, 2012)
Allen Kurzweil – The Case of Curiosities: Occasionally a book will manage to amaze you with just the sheer brilliance of the author’s complex imagination, the depth of knowledge revealed between the pages, the artistry of storytelling. The Case of Curiosities is just such a book. Set in 18th century France, this is less an historical novel than a detailed portrait of a life where every daub of paint is both vivid and fascinating. An entertaining
Aug 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
A sort of coming-of-age story, but one set in 18th-century France, where the son of a watchmaker who dies, leaving a widowed herbalist, is taken on as a sort of student/apprentice by a lapsed Jesuit cleric. At the age of 16, the boy leaves to make his own way in Paris as a sort of mechanical engineer. A book that tries to connect with both the ideas of the Enlightenment and the bawdier passions of the time, it's only modestly successful on both counts.
Sonali V
Mar 02, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is an interesting walk through the by-lanes of the eighteenth century world. it starts on an interesting note but sags in the middle.We do get insights into subaltern Paris but I kept feeling that it could have been a little more in-depth. At the end the various strands of the story,the variety of characters all are brought together a little too neatly, as if it had fallen into the grid made for the purpose.
Oct 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This history is palpable. Kurzweil reminds the reader just how fitful and difficult was the evolution of science. Claude Page lives in a time where science is as much belief as irrefutable fact. His struggle to find creative excellence is hobbled by the ignorance and jealousy. A Case of Curiosities was engaging and worthwhile, although I found the last chapter to be less than fulfilling. I'm not sure why. Still, a very good book.
Jason Miller
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of those books that you think about for years upon years and wish to read again. Dark, satirical, brilliant, engaging... Some of the references and ideas of inventions seemed so unique and out there.. characters you got emotional with whether on their side, sad or feeling pity for or encouraging. Reminds you the mind is amazing and intricate.
This is a book about a French inventor, Claude Page, who spends his youth with a former priest, a bookseller who sells pornography, engages in an affair with a married woman of Parisian society and is befriended by a carriage driver.

While Page has an unusual and somewhat interesting life, there was nothing that really made me enjoy this book. I just couldn't figure out where it was going.
Bob Koelle
Aug 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful novel. It tells the story of Claude Page and his mechanical talents, and how they culminated in the Talking Turk, the only automat known (by me) to be guillotined. The author uses language with tremendous wit and charm, and his characters were endearing to me as few have been of late. The kind of book that makes me want to run out and buy more.
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I must have been a sucker for confidence and efficiency in an author's voice at one time, because, like The Caveman's Valentine, this is another case of a book where technical details were secondary to the overall wisdom of the author's editorial decisions and worldview. Can't be more explicit without reading it again and perhaps not even then.
Apr 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Picked up this interesting read at a thrift store. Set in 18th century France, it details the pleasures, problems and wonders of young Claude. This deliciously quirky read is filled with odd characters, heartwarming camaraderie, disgusting eating habits and passions bordering on madness. Though cleverly written, I found the book too detailed and hence too long. Stil well worth 3.5 stars...
Mar 12, 2009 rated it liked it
One of those odd books that was a gift from my father. I'm about half through and it's getting better (it started off pretty good), so I may add a star when I'm done. Intelligent, entertaining and very original.

Well, I think the ending was not up to the rest of the book.
May 03, 2009 rated it did not like it
I have to admit, the first chapter or so started off really well, but overall, what a terrible book! Once you finish it, you realize why it was written the way it was, very drawn out in places that it was just annoying to draw out, just to make the ending work...
I do not recommend
Aug 22, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Kurzweil has a fascination with objects and with history, and combines them in this quirky and delightful novel. The gimmick is a narrator finding a "case of curiosities" made by a past clockmaker and technical magician, but it is that man's tale and unusual experiences that propel the story.
Lisa Houlihan
May 07, 2013 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who likes Charles Palliser and Arturo Perez-Reverte and wants something a little lighter.
Shelves: novel, male

A great read: French history, watch- and gadget-making (and all books are one book: it and the just-read Invention of Hugo Cabret each deal with automata). Pleasantly geeky, with cases of curiosities and commonplace books. The kind of faux literary-historical novel that delights me.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An excellent story, cleverly told. More bildungsroman than mystery, it keeps your attention all the way through. I found the characters compelling and well drawn and the action thought-provoking. The ending was a bit abrupt, but obviously setting up for a sequel.
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The son of Viennese émigrés, novelist Allen Kurzweil was raised in Europe and the United States. Educated at Yale and the University of Rome, he worked for ten years as a freelance journalist in France, Italy, and Australia before settling in the United States and turning his attention to fiction.

Devotion to the complicated passions of his characters has led Allen to take courses in pop-up book de
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