"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Monday, October 04, 2004

Looping, loopy novel takes quantum leap into metafiction
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Andrew Crumey has clearly taken the dictum "write what you know" to heart, and with his PhD in theoretical physics and job as literary editor at a major weekly newspaper, Scotland on Sunday, what he knows makes for a interesting mix.

In his fifth novel, Mobius Dick, Crumey combines quantum theory with literary and scientific history to produce an imaginative, erudite and playful novel of alternate realities peopled by such historical luminaries as authors E.T.A. Hoffman, Herman Melville and Thomas Mann, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composer Robert Schumann and scientist Erwin Schrodinger.

When Scottish physicist John Ringer receives a mysterious text message--"Call me: H"--on his new "Q-phone" he wonders if it could be from his former lover, Helen.Visiting a former student at a secretive research center, Ringer is offered a chance to work on a new kind of communications and computing technology based on quantum theory and meets Helen's double.

Things get progressively stranger and more mysterious for Ringer as coincidences mount and his memory starts to play tricks.
Ringer's story is intercut with excerpts from a metafictive novel supposedly published in 1949 by Cromwell Press in the British Democratic Republic. Heinrich Behring's The Angel Returns relates a visit by Goethe's mistress to Schumann in a mental hospital and a capsule history of Schumann and his wife, Clara, in which Brahms appears as Clara's lover.

Next, in another narrative thread that could be part of Ringer's world, Behring's "reality" or another metafictive excerpt, we meet accident victim Harry Dick who may be suffering from false memory syndrome along with partial amnesia.

He meets a fellow patient named Clara and a writing therapist who has never heard of Mann or Gustav Flaubert.

Another supposed excerpt from a Behring novel Professor Faust deals with Schrodinger's sojourn at a Swiss rest clinic where he has come to meet his lover and search for a scientific theory that will make him famous.

Crumey shuffles these four threads until the cards blur together, handling the deck like a professional sharp. Themes examined include causality, dualism, the differences between what is real, what is remembered and what is imagined, and particle/wave quantum theory.

It sounds heavy, but the author leavens the heady mix of provocative ideas and twisting, tailswallowing plot with a generous measure of humor that runs from goofily sophomoric to cleverly self-referential. In the opening chapter, Ringer stumbles on a literary lecture titled "Vicious Cycloids" that absurdly cross-references Moby-Dick, the works of Schumann, Hoffmann and Mann. Ringer scoffs at the false significance given to coincidences in the arts, musing: "No doubt some imaginative novelist could conceive a logical scheme linking everything: Hoffmann, Schumann, Schrodinger, Mann. Some grand unified theory in which Helen and Ringer would be quantum resonances...a narrative inevitability."

Mobius Dick is a pleasurable paradox that leaves the reader smiling, if a little dizzy.

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