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Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times – Andrew Crumey

Again the books for Judith’s Bookshelf Travelling meme now overseen by Katrina are on my shelf of Scottish books.

Eight idiosyncratic novels by Andrew Crumey.

Books by Andrew Crumey

I have read all of these since I started my blog and hence reviewed them all over the years. You’ll find them listed below in order of reading, with links to the reviews.

Though not all of his fiction deals with the subject, his background in theoretical physics colours some of the books. One of his accomplishments is that he has managed to illustrate quantum mechanical concepts in fictional form – and without sacrificing comprehensibility. His interest in historical figures and mathematics also permeates his work and he is aware, too, of the hinterland of Scottish literature. There’s not a dud here.

Mobius Dick
Sputnik Caledonia
Music, In a Foreign Language
D’Alembert’s Principle
Mr Mee
The Secret Knowledge
The Great Chain of Unbeing

Goodbye 2012

I don’t usually do end of year round-ups – mostly because most folk write theirs before Christmas and that offends my sensibilities. The year ends on 31st Dec, not before.
Whatever, I looked through all the fiction books I read this year and found twelve that stood out. In order of reading they were:-

PfITZ by Andrew Crumey
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown
the Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
New Model Army by Adam Roberts
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
D’Alembert’s Principle by Andrew Crumey

That’s four by women and eight by men, which is a pretty high strike rate for the distaff side compared to my fiction reading as a whole, 12:45 – is that shockingly low or a reflection of publishing? Four were SF, eight not; though that ratio alters if you count the fantastical – the Lord, the Obreht, the Bulgakov, and the Crumeys which feature stories from a city made up within one of the two. Only the Robertson and the Pamuk lie wholly within the realm of the naturalistic.

I don’t propose to rank the twelve in any way.

D’Alembert’s Principle by Andrew Crumey

Memory, Reason and Imagination. Dedalus, 1996, 203p.

How to describe this extraordinary book? At one extreme it’s a triptych, at the other it’s three totally different narratives shoe-horned between one set of covers. The first, D’Alembert’s Principle, mixes the confessional with traditional third person and the epistolary to tell the story of Jean le Rond D’Alembert, a mathematician who studied the laws of motion and, along with Diderot, edited the Encyclopédie. The second is a Vernesque fantasy, The Cosmography of Magnus Ferguson, a work with echoes in its feel of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus. The third is called Tales from Rreinnstadt and features the character Pfitz from Crumey’s previous novel of that title.

Three different tales, the first a beautiful evocation of D’Alembert’s life and love and whose three types of narration shouldn’€t work in combination yet somehow do regardless, the second the conjunction of an imaginary travelogue through the then known (18th century) planets of the Solar System and the story of a man who seems to inhabit a sequel to a tale he has been reading about someone with his own name, the third a series of stories within stories within stories told by a character invented by the narrator of another book entirely (a book moreover which exists entirely outwith the covers of the one being read,) all reflecting on each other and on the nature of existence. Not for nothing is the sub-title of the overall D’Alembert’s Principle, Memory, Reason and Imagination. Yet reading it is never a chore, nor difficult. The prose flows as smoothly as anyone could wish.

Crumey manages in his fiction to use scientific concepts as metaphors without these seeming forced and to illustrate quantum mechanical ideas about the nature of reality in novelistic form, expressing them entirely naturally. (Or is it just that, as a scientist myself, these seem unexceptional?)

D’Alembert’s Principle is 203 pages of virtuosity and skill. The Introduction by John Clute – which, in case of spoilers, I took care not to read till after the novel itself – describes it as astonishing. Well, only if you have not read other novels by Crumey. This is the fifth of his novels I have read and they are, without exception, excellent.

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