Characters: 5/5 Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 4/5
Piranesi is a simple being who lives in a massive world called The House, populated by vast quantities of Statues, one friend (The Other) and the bones of 13 others whom Piranesi has named and cares for as one would their dead. Piranesi is a rationalist and has set himself the task of documenting as much as he can about his world — the Statues, the various Halls, the incoming tides, etc, carefully logging everything in his journals with a special cross reference index. Whenever he is troubled, he remembers that he is a Beloved Child of the House. Until one day, something triggers him to look into some of the older journals…
This book is a kind of Robinson Crusoe of the mind, full of philosophy, madness, and surprising resolution. It is a fascinating possible answer to the question “What happens to old ideas as they leave the world?” The start was a bit slow for me but I finally got into the rhythm of the book and finished it in almost a single sitting. (To be fair, it is a relatively short book at 245 pages, and I am home, sick). The ending was thought provoking and a little bittersweet. Definitely worth a read.
An Isabel Dalhousie book. For those unfamiliar with McCall Smith’s less well-known protagonist (Mma Ramotswe of Number One Ladies Detective Agency is far more popular), Isabel is a philosopher of independent means. She serves as the publisher and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. What an unusual character on which to base a series! These books center around questions of morality, and amidst the light plots that loosely guide each episode, we are treated to a constant stream of philosophical musings and epiphanies. I love the fact that rather than read the (probably) dry research papers that populate Isabel’s Review, we instead get to hear the intriguing summaries.
In this installment, Isabel is asked to serve as executor of a dying man’s trust while simultaneously coming to terms with her niece’s engagement to an (to Isabel) unsuitable man. These situations give rise to musings about the accidents of love, moral obligations, moral strangers, the sphere of moral proximity, and what it means to act graciously. Populated by the educational elite of Edinburgh, this series also gives rise to discussions on a wide variety of topics — this time including Himalayan languages and Scottish Country dancing.
I have a very good vocabulary and have read most of McCall Smith’s books and yet he *still* surprises me with new words. This time: Gluckschmerz and commensality. Gluckschmerz is feeling pain in the face of another’s success — the opposite of Schadenfreude. Commensality refers to the positive social interactions that are associated with people eating together.
My favorite phrase in the book: “the suppurating corruption of greed.”
Thank you to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on July 28th, 2020.
Writing: 3 Plot: 3.5 Characters: 4
A bizarre ride through a coming-of-age story laced with philosophical conundrums on the nature of reality and our place in the world. Noah Oakman is a high school senior equally focused on typical high school matters such as girls and where to go to college and more atypical matters such as the nature of reality and his place in the universe. He is somewhat obsessed with David Bowie and his Pathological Authenticity. Spinning on Bowie’s biography — “Strange Fascination” — Noah has his own four Strange Fascinations. These play an important role when he wakes up after a drunken party to find that the world has changed subtly: his mother has a scar she never had before; his best friend Alan is now a Marvel Comic fan, rather than a DC Comic fan; and his Shar-pei “Fluffenberger the FreakingUseless” is now a highly energetic alternate animal and thus renamed “Mark Wahlberg.”
I found the novel deeply interesting, though a little long winded. To be fair, I read an advanced copy so perhaps it has been tightened up a bit. Thought provoking and appealing characters, plenty of juicy (to me) reflective commentary on the universe, and streaks of sci-fi spread throughout. Great lessons on friendship, family, doing the right thing, honesty, forgiveness, and (my favorite) the understanding that you can love flawed things.