PfITZ by Andrew Crumey

Dedalus, 1995, 164p

 PfITZ cover

This novel begins somewhat like a fairy tale, “Two centuries ago a Prince” is pretty close to, “Once upon a time.” However, the characters here do not “live happily ever after” and the philosophical musings the book contains are more elevated than the admonitory morals of the usual fairy tale.

The Prince concerned is keen on designing fantasy cities, so much so that whole armies of people are employed to create on paper the perfect city, Rreinstadt – not just the infrastructure but also the doings of its inhabitants and visitors. (This being in the nature of a fairy tale, where the money for this endeavour comes from is not explained.) The first two chapters, which set the novel up, contain no dialogue but manage to intrigue nonetheless.

Our hero is Schenk, a Cartographer, poring over maps of Rreinstadt, who on an errand one day is smitten by a pretty young Biographer, Estrella. He is also curious about the partly erased entries on one of his maps, that of the hotel room of a visitor to Rreinstadt, one Count Zelneck. He interprets the names concerned as Pfitz and Spontini. To impress Estrella and give him a reason for continuing to visit the Biography section he invents a story for Pfitz and Count Zelneck and writes it for her. His Pfitz – and therefore ours as we can read Pfitz’s adventures in occasional chapters – is an inveterate story teller in a magic realist kind of way. Spontini turns out to be one of the “authors” of books in Rreinstadt’s library (no detail is too small for the chroniclers of the Prince’s city) whose oeuvre is created by a team of writers. Spontini is apparently destined for madness.

So we have tales within tales and characters coming to wonder if they themselves are creations in someone else’s fiction. All very self-referential and post-modern. And, of course, begging a very Science Fictional question as to whether our world is itself a fictional creation or not.

Where the treatment began to unravel for me was that events in the “real” world – that of the Prince’s city planners – its jealousies and murder attempts, started to mirror the “invented” one (which being cause and which effect, a moot point.) This seemed to me to labour the parallels too much.

Had I not previously read Crumey’s Mobius Dick, Sputnik Caledonia and Music, in a Foreign Language I might have been more taken with PÆ’ITZ. It is still a worthwhile novel; it just doesn’t reach the heights those books did.

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