Anyway, I was reading this simultaneously with Wages of Sin (that's the last time I will mention that monstrosity), and I think it unfairly benefited by comparison. Also, it's a book about books, and I DO love a good book about books, especially with passages like this:
Real life is physical. Give me books instead: Give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book; I'd give anything for that. (p. 117)Our protagonist and narrator is Ariel, a PhD research assistant studying thought experiments, "experiments that, for whatever reason, cannot be physically carried out, but must instead be conducted internally, via logic and reasoning, in the mind" (p. 82). She's scary smart but also self-loathing, self-destructive, snarky, mildly autistic, and generally miserable. She pursues knowledge with abandon, neglecting formation of healthy human relationships.
At the start of the story, her research supervisor, Professor Saul Burlem, has gone missing and she's trying to carry on her work without him. He and Ariel had connected over their shared interest in Thomas E. Lumas, a 19th-century writer and physicist who enjoyed pissing off other 19th-century physicists by daring to disagree with them, punching them in the face (well, just Darwin the one time), and insisting on the existence of a fourth spatial dimension. He used his "fictional" stories, centered on the supernatural world, to work out his subversive theories.
Lumas died shortly after completing his last and most infamous work, The End of Mr. Y. This particular book is surrounded by mystery and the legend that everyone who reads it dies soon after. Ariel doesn't care a whit about curses and would love to get her hands on a copy of this book. Alas, there seem to be none left in existence.
The story has an eerie, Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus sort of ambience, which I dug. Also, sharing Ariel's mind space means seeing the world the way she does, which can be fascinating. For example, her thoughts upon observing two men loading vending machines into a white van: "For a moment I suddenly think the machines are alive, and these men are taking them prisoner."
But the tangents. SO MANY TANGENTS. Because Ariel notices everything that's ever happening anywhere, we have to take notice, too. And since she knows everything about everything, we have to suffer through intricate explanations of scientific concepts we might not find interesting. Between the tangents and the name-dropping (Derrida, Butler, Baudrillard, Heidegger . . . yeah, we get it, Ariel, you understand All The Hard Things), I had trouble hanging on until the end.
Really, it's a miracle I made it past the opening page. Hitting me with a Butler quote stating that nothing real is really real in reality is an excellent deterrent.
Go ahead, Ariel, sum up my feelings about this book:
(P.S. Hipster Ariel is quoting book Ariel from p. 300.)