Quicksilver – Neal Stephenson

quicksilver2Quicksilver is a book that defies with ease any attempts at writing a pithy and flashy review. Swatting-a-lame-old-fly is the kind of ease I’m going for here. Read the blurbs if you are looking for that, a review of this type just wouldn’t really be a review, but rather an extended blurb.

Quicksilver, the first part of the Baroque Cycle trilogy, is vast and winding. It spans decades and continents, its subject matter is difficult to pin down, its method is an even more elusive beast. Perhaps the most apt definition I have arrived at comes from the novel itself:

“It seemed that Jack, here, had blundered into the fourth or fifth act of a drama – neither a comedy nor a tragedy, but a history.”

And although the sentence refers to somebody else’s historical drama, it self-consciously echoes the structure of the novel. Which, like history, maintains only the illusion of such a structure. As some proponents of New Historicism would have it, historians and document-makers are part of the historical process they are untangling and seeking to document and explain. They are just as much embroiled in the material practices and texts of their time, as are the agents of their narratives. Continue reading

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Tainaron: Mail from Another City – Lena Krohn

What a marvelous book Lena Krohn’s tiny Tainaron is! I admit that I chose it for my train read precisely because of its size. It’s merely 130 pages long, many of them filled with illustrations and the blank spaces that follow the end of chapters, in this case letters. Tainaron consists of thirty letters sent by a woman to her unnamed once-lover, over the huge mass of Oceanus, from the eponymous insect-inhabited city where she has emigrated for an unknown reason. It is not a novel, nor is it really a novella. There is no overarching plot; in fact, most of the novelistic mechanics that is part of our conditioning cannot be found in it. The psychological core of that very Western literary form, rooted in the socio-economic interaction between character and society, is simply not much of a concern for Lena Krohn. We never get to learn why the anonymous author of the letters came to Tainaron, how she makes her living, whether she has a job at all.

Instead, Tainaron is a confession of sorts, albeit an oblique one. It is also a series of metaphysical musings on the nature of life, death, identity. Continue reading