Rebecca's Reviews > War of the Encyclopaedists

War of the Encyclopaedists by Christopher  Robinson
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really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed-we-love-this-book, postmodern, war-fiction

In this postmodern satire, two Seattle hipsters must face reality when one of them leaves to fight in the Iraq War. Halifax Corderoy and Mickey Montauk mark the summer of 2004 by hosting one their infamous themed parties as “The Encyclopaedists.” It’s the end of an era for these drug-loving pals: Mickey, a National Guardsman, has been called to duty in Iraq, and Hal heads to graduate school in Boston. From now on they keep in touch by updating their pretentious Encyclopaedists Wikipedia article: “an armour of formal diction and analytical calm.” While Hal applies literary criticism to Star Wars and tries to make amends to his ex-girlfriend, Mani, Mickey is in life-and-death situations, looking for car bombs and overseeing local elections. A search for his translator’s murderer descends into farce, and things get complicated when Hal’s flatmate, Tricia, turns up as an independent journalist.

Like in A Visit from the Goon Squad, the text is interspersed with diagrams, documents, and screenshots. Children of the 1980s-90s, especially, will recognise the many wry period references. The graduate school segments recall The Art of Fielding while the Iraq sections are similar to The Yellow Birds. Robinson and Kovite (an Iraq War veteran) alternate their settings in a fairly seamless whole. Despite the buddy setup, they also write strong female characters. The novel never quite lives up to its literary allusions (Hamlet, and a last paragraph* worthy of The Great Gatsby), but still captures the recent past with humor, nostalgia and critical detachment.

*It starts: “Fools, all of us. Glorious fools born into a vacuum of need, told we could be anything, flailing in a sea of possibility, thinking it a curse, having to design our lives from scratch, forever skeptical of what we create, forever revising, no idea of who we are or what we will make of ourselves...”

Related reading: Glass by Alex Christofi, for the Wikipedia obsession.

Really enjoyed this Kirkus interview with the authors, and this article about their unpublished “drawer novel,” Slaughter at Suez, “a pulp adventure mystery novel set in 1862, Egypt.”
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Reading Progress

March 31, 2015 – Shelved
March 31, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
May 15, 2015 – Started Reading
May 15, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed-we-love-this-book
May 20, 2015 –
page 200
46.4% "This is a lot of fun. It's like a cross between The Art of Fielding (Harbach) and The Yellow Birds (Powers), with touches of A Visit from the Goon Squad thrown in."
May 25, 2015 – Shelved as: postmodern
May 25, 2015 – Shelved as: war-fiction
May 25, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Greg Rebecca, "Art of Fielding" is one of my favorite books of all time. Have you read "Baracuda"? I'm reading it now, it's similar in tone to Fielding and very good so far.

Rebecca The Christos Tsiolkas book? Yes, I read it last year and reviewed it for Third Way magazine. I agree the theme is very similar in both novels - using sport as a metaphor for human striving. Thanks for the like!

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