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A Case of Curiosities Paperback – 25 Mar 1993


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Paperback, 25 Mar 1993
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (25 Mar. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140167846
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140167849
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,098,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Jun. 2004
Format: Paperback
Though this intriguing picaresque novel is full of esoteric pursuits in late 18th-century France, the novel is remarkably accessible and great fun to read. Claude Page, a 12-year-old farm boy of huge imagination and intelligence, is mentored by the Count of Tournay, a defrocked priest who studies "everything from the grandeur of the heavens to the minutiae of the terrestrial world." In reality, he is training Claude to be an enameler of pornographic watches. As Claude pursues his interest as a mechanician, the reader is introduced to many facets of society and the forces which animate them.
Kurzweil delights in playing games with the reader, breaking down defenses and challenging expectations. His ability to bring this period to life in a context accessible to the reader is daunting. Gracefully incorporating such diverse subjects as the enameling process, watchmaking, taxidermy, strange sounds and exotic birds, as well as contemporary 18th-century science, philosophy, and love of pornography, Kurzweil makes these esoteric subjects come alive, not because they are so alluring to the reader, but because they are important to the characters, whose lives are intriguing and whose problems, despite the 18th-century context, are nevertheless universal.
This precursor to The Grand Complication does not have as tight a plot that that novel, but as a polymath's knowledge of the 18th century it is just as intelligent and just as much fun to read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. J. Maslin on 8 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a book which I had seen commented upon in a newspaper in 2009 but I never got around to doing anything about it until I came across the description and decided to send for it. I haven't yet read the book but the transaction was, as always, hassle-free. The book arrived in the condition as advertised.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 10 Nov. 2002
Format: Hardcover
Though this intriguing picaresque novel is full of esoteric pursuits in late 18th century France, the novel is remarkably accessible and great fun to read. Claude Page, a 12-year-old farm boy of huge imagination and intelligence, is "adopted" by the Count of Tournay, a defrocked priest who studies "everything from the grandeur of the heavens to the minutiae of the terrestrial world." In reality, he is training Claude to be an enameler of pornographic watches. As Claude pursues his interest as a "mechanician," the reader is introduced to many facets of society and the forces which animate them.
Kurzweil obviously delights in playing games with the reader, breaking down defenses and challenging expectations. In an early scene, for example, a surgeon's removal of "the devil's handiwork" from a child stimulates our sensibilities and anticipates our revulsion. Then Kurzweil jerks the chain and shows us who is in control. In serious or scholarly scenes, he lightens the mood with puns, word play, and jokes, some clever, some groaners--a nobleman's motto, "Born to Serve," refers to his tennis abilities; an expert in insanity is named Battie. Unique images provide constant surprises and vitalize his descriptions--"[The sound of] feet walking through snow was indistinguishable from the noise when the baker squeezed a sack of cornstarch"; "her costume was a taxidermist's dream."
Kurzweil's ability to bring this period to life in a context accessible to the reader is daunting.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 23 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A 12-year-old pornographer brings the 18th century to life. 8 May 2002
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Though this intriguing picaresque novel is full of esoteric pursuits in late 18th century France, the novel is remarkably accessible and great fun to read. Claude Page, a 12-year-old farm boy of huge imagination and intelligence, is "adopted" by the Count of Tournay, a defrocked priest who studies "everything from the grandeur of the heavens to the minutiae of the terrestrial world." In reality, he is training Claude to be an enameler of pornographic watches. As Claude pursues his interest as a "mechanician," the reader is introduced to many facets of society and the forces which animate them.

Kurzweil obviously delights in playing games with the reader, breaking down defenses and challenging expectations. In an early scene, for example, a surgeon's removal of "the devil's handiwork" from a child stimulates our sensibilities and anticipates our revulsion. Then Kurzweil jerks the chain and shows us who is in control. In serious or scholarly scenes, he lightens the mood with puns, word play, and jokes, some clever, some groaners--a nobleman's motto, "Born to Serve," refers to his tennis abilities; an expert in insanity is named Battie. Unique images provide constant surprises and vitalize his descriptions--"[The sound of] feet walking through snow was indistinguishable from the noise when the baker squeezed a sack of cornstarch"; "her costume was a taxidermist's dream."

Kurzweil's ability to bring this period to life in a context accessible to the reader is daunting. Gracefully incorporating such diverse subjects as the enameling process, watchmaking, contemporary 18th century science and philosophy, and love of pornography, Kurzweil makes these esoteric subjects come alive, not because they are so alluring to the reader, but because they are important to the characters, whose lives are intriguing and whose problems, despite the 18th century context, are nevertheless universal. This precursor to The Grand Complication does not have as tight a plot that that novel, but I thought it just as intelligent and just as much fun to read. Mary Whipple
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Some Nice Details, But Thin Characters, Thin Drama 20 Sept. 2000
By AMH - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Boy, did I want to like this novel. A young inventor in pre-Revolution France, when automatons were all the rage, and scientific enquiry was in its Natural History/specimen-collecting/leather-books-on-esoteric-subjects/freaks-and-oddities stage. Unfortunately, the novel infuriated me. The characters are all thin, even the main character, Claude, the young inventor, whom Kurzweil treats like a lay figure, placing him in various positions and predicaments. Kurzweil's writing is too often glib and general. "The beery fellow began a conversation that led to friendship." (pg 124) Too often he tells and doesn't show. Dialog lacks pop. There are a number of debates on arcane subjects which read like passages from a dry lecture. (No crafty, natural-flow, Socratic stuff here.) A crucial event mid-way in the book, which propels Claude to Paris, is obviously not the shocker Claude thinks, and it doesn't make sense that he would think it is. There are many nice details, details of the kind of milieu I was hoping for. But I need more than details....
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Curious hardware 30 April 1998
By Ray Girvan (ray.girvan@zetnet.co.uk) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
An interesting and clever novel: a partial life history of an imagined French inventor-genius, Claude Page, uncovered via the framing device of Page's 'box of curiosities' found at an antiques fair. While this is a very enjoyable tour through Page's world of automata, enamelling, sound, books, watches, and other gadgets, there's a strange aloofness to the narrative. Page sails through the book, taking everything in his stride: amputation, pornography, sex, appalling living conditions, bereavement, loss, and reconciliation. Unlike Candide's 'Age of Reason' optimism, Page's attitude seems to be just one of not caring much. But despite this lack of emotion in the hero, this is an affectionate look at a machine-obsessed era, whose fascination with mechanical toys mirrors our own with electronic ones.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A well-examined life 12 July 2002
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A unique adventure lurks in the pages of a Case of Curiosities: one mans life, dreams, aspirations, failures and adventures following a highly unusual vocation. Stimulated to curiosity after the purchase of a memory box, the author begins a very detailed journey through 18th century France, Paris in particular, following the adventures of Claude Page, an apprentice to the dark side of human nature.
Regardless of the era, Victorian, Puritanical, unconventional or morally restrictive, there is always a lucrative market for anything of sexual interest, particularly perversions of every variety. Young Claude, living in extreme poverty, is offered an opportunity to apprentice as a painter of ivory, a skill requiring considerable dexterity and artistry. His relative innocence is irrelevant, as long as Claude can wield a paintbrush. He is charged with depicting tiny scenes of sexual deviance on objects such as pocket watches, personal jewelry, wherever the surface allows the rendition of perverse portraits. The network of purveyors and collectors is well established and rife with connoisseurs of this unusual art. In spite of the opportunity, Claude soon becomes bored with his latest endeavors, until he stumbles upon a new interest: the intricate mechanics of movement. This new curiosity becomes his quest, eventually leading him to the streets and underbelly of Paris and a myriad of experiences with the many faces of humanity, as friend and foe.
Claude's dreams remain unfulfilled, and he is driven to discover the knowledge that will unlock the key of his mind's invention. Along the way, Claude has attracted an unusual and urbane assortment of friends, denizens of the streets, who recognize his incipient genius. Eventually, their support and innovative methods of procurement enable Claude to achieve his goal: a fully mechanized figure, an innovative engineering coup that finds its creator heaped with praise and recognition. From the beginning of this intricate novel to the end, a whole layer of Parisian society is uncovered, one that lives by wit alone, surviving the dangers on the streets of the demimonde. Against this fascinating canvas, Claude's life is meticulously wrought, year by year, as he struggles for self-definition and the satisfaction of pursuing his particular path.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Empty Compartment 4 Oct. 2001
By bored movie-goer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I thought this was a deeply affecting book by the same author who penned the more lighthearted novel, The Grand Complication.
It is clever, witty, and sharp like a precocious little know it all brat. That said, the book is peppered with hilarious puns, esoteric references to mechanical gears, bawdy asides, and little snips of wisdom with a Twainesque ring.
Character development slightly suffers from the flood of dense information that Kurzweil provides, but becomes more pronounced as our protagonist, Claude Page, meets more people (including his future wife) and gets out of Tournay. However, I realized this in retrospect, but found the book as enjoyable as a Discovery show hosted by John Cleese.
The book is great. Raed it damn it!
However, in a note of speculation, the book is after all set in the very late 18th century, there is probably a surprising reference to a hit disco song from the 1970's. Maybe I am reading too deeply into it, but I believe Kurzweil was winking at the song "Ring My Bell." Ring any bells anyone? I guess we will shelve that question in the "Empty Compartment."
Darn! Way too many jokes and asides today! LOL
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