Let’s get something out of the way: The Rule of Four by Justin Thomason and Ian Caldwell is pretty much a paint-by-numbers affair as far as intellectual thrillers are concerned. There is, of course, an extremely obscure historical text called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili that apparently has an arcane code within it, revealing an earth-shaking truth that may rewrite history. There is an obsessive soul, a senior in Princeton named Paul, who becomes so consumed by the mystery that he pushes away the people who love him in his pursuit of it. There is a narrator named Tom who has already watched is his father be consumed by the Hypnerotomachia until his death and is now watching helplessly as the same thing happens to his best friend.
There are also deaths, because people who write their thesis on 15th Century Italian manuscripts live life on the edge.
But for some reason, reading this book pushed so many pleasure centers in my brain in ways that made me forgive the banal writing and even the weird tonal shifts that it takes. When the story is not straining to be suspenseful or shocking, I actually found it kind of comforting. The hermetic setting of the Princeton campus may also have contributed to that, because it evoked associations of Dead Poets’ Society, The Gilmore Girls, and other pop culture things about idyllic schools and youth.
Day 11 – A book that disappointed you
Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body
I admit, I may have expected too much from the novel, knowing that it is Jeanette Winterson’s fictionalized account of her affair with the late literary agent Pat Kavanagh while still married to novelist Julian Barnes. And while there are instances of luminous prose (the part where the protagonist meditates on the meaning of the lover’s anatomy is particularly beautiful) I found the novel self-indulgent and stale over all. There’s a great degree of self-satisfied inaction, like the narrator somehow find romance in the idea of a pining lover.
Okay, I’ll be honest. I really just wanted more details about one of the big scandals that rocked the London literary establishment. Heh.
It was one of those literary scandals that would seem trivial to many, but was a matter of earthshaking importance to the World of Letters. Dmitri Nabokov, son of Vladmir Nabokov (writer famous for the controversial novel Lolita), had been tasked with the decision whether or not to burn the manuscript of his father’s last unfinished novel, titled The Original of Laura.
As part of his last will and testament, the older Nabokov wanted his notes burned after his death. According to Dmitri, his father couldn’t take the idea that his most cherished work, “the most concentrated distillation of [his] creativity,” to see the light of day in its unfinished form.
This is was my entry for Jessica Zafra’s LitWit Challenge. I had a lot of fun doing this and I hope to expand this story soon. Thanks to Bhex for her invaluable input.
Ernesto didn’t bother scolding the boy anymore. His mother already did a number on him last night and it was evident from the morose way he was fetching their bicycles from the shed behind the house that his ego was still bruised. Far be it for Major Ernesto Villegas to admit that his wife can scare him, but only an idiot would choose to stand in the line of fire, so to speak.