how to begin? how to begin again?
the novel begins by introducing us to a world-class architect, named harry radcliffe, who has a nervous breakdown, acquires the services of a shaman, and then tries to put his life back together. he is asked to design a dog museum in a fictional middle eastern country called saru, by the current leader, the sultan. what follows after this is established leaps into a beguiling and peculiar story, where magic and god seem to thread themselves through harry's quest to find what life he will build for himself, and what he will be. the subtitle, "a novel of love, death, and architecture" neatly sums up the subject matter. there is a lot of all three in this novel, and i don't know more of the meat of the story need be revealed in this review than is captured in those words.
this is a wonderfully rendered little alternate earth of carroll's -- he has an extraordinary facility with creating a near reality, filled with vivid characterizations. the protagonist is a charming bastard who interacts with a lot of other characters, in a landscape sometimes beautiful, sometimes hostile and sometime both. some of the characters come into the book and quickly go, there are others who stay even if they are gone, and there are many little moments, as there are in life. then there are harry's satellites in this journey: his companions, bronze, then fanny and claire, the sultan and his son, palm and hassenhuttl, the animals connie and bigtop, and above all, the remarkable venasque who looms large over the book, who really engage with him in a profound way, and in some cases, are cognizant that their exchanges are where their strength lies. we learn a lot when harry is talking to the people in his life, some things i should probably try to apply to my own.
the only reservation i have about this book is that i sometimes didn't appreciate the small disconnects in the narrative. to be omniscient or not to be omniscient -- is that the question? slight unreliability in our narrator? was her hair seal black or blonde? we're told 'they never see each other again' but they do. but this is a small thing in the midst of all the riches here, the many wonderful little stories, analogies, sometimes parables, the little side journeys we take when harry begins to travel. initially i worried that i might be liking the book for the cocteau quotes that litter the first section, but i soon saw them seed the evolution of harry throughout the book, and the book itself, the author unfolding the novel's journey and its philosophical ideas in tandem with harry's immersion in them by velasque. aside from the wisdom of the shaman, which i loved so much that i read the first forty or pages five times before i could go on, and the story the sultan tells of god as a black man who had his lunch stolen is a stand-out for me. i already find myself thinking about it in reflection.
this is really a 4.5. i'm really glad that karen is so vocal in her championing of this writer. i will definitely be reading more.