Jack Caulfield's Reviews > The Fifth Head of Cerberus

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
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it was amazing
Read 2 times. Last read April 25, 2019 to May 6, 2019.

Usually in any novel that hinges upon a central mystery, that mystery is a sort of game played in the full knowledge that you're going to win, a series of questions that you know you'll be given the answers to in good time. That is, you feel like you're puzzling something out, but short of solving the mystery yourself before the big reveal, you can't really be said to have done any intellectual work.

Gene Wolfe approaches mysteries differently. This is honestly one of the most challenging novels I've read, not challenging in the manner of Ulysses (though Wolfe's beautiful, carefully crafted prose undoubtedly bears the mark of the modernist tradition), but challenging in the sense that you are given all the subtle hints you need to solve the mystery, with none of the neat exposition at the end to confirm or dispel your suspicions.

And, of course, the novel does not just exist for the sake of this mystery. This is a book written with very serious ideas about identity, heritage, colonialism, childhood, maturity and memory in mind. Wolfe's genius is his ability not only to fit all this into a relatively short novel (really three superficially disparate novellas), but to write with such consistent beauty and power in the process.

It's also great sci-fi.
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Reading Progress

June 1, 2016 – Shelved
June 1, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
July 19, 2017 – Started Reading
July 19, 2017 –
page 54
24.22%
July 19, 2017 –
page 71
31.84%
July 20, 2017 –
page 125
56.05%
July 26, 2017 –
page 168
75.34%
July 31, 2017 – Finished Reading
April 25, 2019 – Started Reading
April 25, 2019 –
page 3
1.35%
April 30, 2019 –
page 7
3.14%
May 2, 2019 –
page 39
17.49%
May 4, 2019 –
page 71
31.84%
May 5, 2019 –
page 125
56.05%
May 6, 2019 – Finished Reading

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