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Hopeful Monsters [Paperback]

Nicholas Mosley
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 April 1991
This Whitbread Book of The Year Award winner for 1990 is the final novel of the "Catastrophe Practice" series. Set in the 1920s and 30s, it tells the story of two young radicals, Max and Eleanor, who meet, love, separate and come together again during the maelstrom of the Spanish Civil War.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (4 April 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074939112X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0749391126
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 396,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A gigantic achievement that glows and grows long after it is put aside." - "Independent on Sunday" "An expansive and liberating adventure of tests, quests, miracles and coincidences--It stands as a well-weathered, very benign, widespreading kind of tree, drawing sustenance from the dark earth of a 20th-century experience, and allowing all kinds of unexpected illuminations to shine through." - "Observer" "A major novel--profound--frequently funny, sometimes painful, sometimes moving that asks fundamental questions about the nature of experience." - "The Scotsman"

About the Author

Nicholas Moseley, born in 1923, is the author of twelve novels, including Accident, Impossible Object and the first four volumes of the Catastrophe Practice series, Catastrophe Practice, Imago Bird, Serpent and Judith. Hopeful Monsters, the fifth and final volume, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He has also written non-fiction books on politics and religion and, most recently, his autobiography, Efforts at Truth.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
"Hopeful Monsters" 1990 winner of the Whitbread award follows the tale of two unlikely soul mates. A German daughter of a Physicist and an English son of a biologist. Their Journeys take the reader across the globe, from the end of the first world war to the beginning of the second, entangling their lives with the major developments of a turbulent century filled with war, loss and hope.
Mosley, son of infamous Oswald Mosley, founder of the first British union of fascists, captures his own complicated relationship between child and their parents perfectly and at times we can see the separation between child and parent and the pain it brings.
Both Eleanor and Max introduce the reader to the workings of their family lives in post war Britain and Germany, inviting us into the workings of politics and science. A huge array of characters are introduced and famous faces are inspirational to the book, most notable Albert Einstein.
The Novel takes on an unique style, bouncing between the two lovers, recounting their lives up until they re-united for the second time. Every Chapter takes on a different and personal, from struggles to romances, episode of their lives.
Although this style keeps the book flowing well, it can be confusing to the reader particularly when new narrators are introduced at the latter of the book. However the style is clever, unique and exciting.
This Novel incorporates a huge amount of idea, thought and history of two great nations, two people destined to find one another and a century that has defined the world today. Not for the younger reader, but well suited for someone with a cryptic and open mind.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How much can you put into one book. 6 Sep 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Nicholas Mosley, son of Oswald has created one of the most knowledge filled books this reviewer has ever encountered. "Hopeful Monsters" takes the reader from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the second through the love story between the daughter of a German physicist and the son of an English biologist.
The couple meet in a Bavarian forest when they are in their teens but do not come together really for almost twenty years. The book is structured with them writing to each other once they have reunited and giving their partner the details of their lives up to that point.
Mosley examines apparent coincidences and interconnectedness of the world. Max's work in biology brings him close the work of Helena's father in physics questioning the objectivity of experiments which are observed. Helena herself comes close to these ideas in her observation of humanity, especially due to her connection to the archly self-conscious politics of both the Nazis and the Communists in inter-war Germany. Her adventures take her to Africa and civil war Spain where she finds herself on the wrong, Nationalist, side.
The hopeful monsters of the title are salamaders that Max uses in his first experiment. In this experiment he, successfully, manages to make lowland salamaders give birth to a highland salamander by introducing them into an ideally beautiful enviroment. This becomes a metaphor for the enviroment that the two lovers will eventually and inevitably create for the children that they adopt.
"Hopeful Monsters" is an extraordinary book which loses a little towards the end when other narrators are introduced. In the book Mosley takes the reader through all the important events in history, biology, physics of the inter-war years intertwining them with a wonderful and believable romance.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Big Novel of Ideas 22 April 2002
By "botatoe" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1991, Nicholas Mosley resigned from the judging panel for England's prestigious Booker Prize when none of his choices made the shortlist. Writing about the affair in The Times of London, Mosley related that all of his choices were rejected because they were 'novels of ideas, or novels in which characters were subservient to ideas.' He went on to opine, in a statement that seems to apply as much to his Whitbread Prize-winning novel 'Hopeful Monsters' as to his view of his Booker choices: 'My point was that humans were beings who did have ideas, who were often influenced by ideas, to whom ideas were important. If they were not, then there was some lack in being human.'
'Hopeful Monsters' is a novel where character development is subservient to ideas, where narrative action takes place against big historical events. While it ostensibly tells the story of a life-long romantic relationship between Max Ackerman, an English physicist, and Eleanor Anders, a German-Jewish anthropologist, the romance is as much a vehicle for the promulgation and exploration of ideas as it is a tale of a man and a woman in the twentieth century.
'Hopeful Monsters' begins at the end of World War I. Max is ten years old and lives outside Cambridge, England. His father is a biologist who specializes in genetic inheritance and his mother is a woman of seeming artistic interests who had been 'brought up on the fringes of what was even then known as the Bloomsbury Group.' His parents have had long ties to the Cambridge University community. Eleanor, too, lives in an intellectual milieu, one in which ideas predominate. Eleanor lives in Berlin, where her mother is a Marxist and follower of Rosa Luxemburg and her father is a lecturer in philosophy. From such beginnings, novels of ideas are made!
From this starting point, 'Hopeful Monsters' narrates the story of Max and Eleanor through the rise of Nazism in Germany, the post-Lenin rise to power of Joseph Stalin, the Spanish Civil War, and the development of the Atomic Bomb. It does this while, all the time, interweaving Darwinism (and its Lamarckian heresy), Marxism, quantum physics and the uncertainty principle, Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian archetypes, and even suggestions of Jewish mysticism. It is a story that runs from 1918 until the 1970s and continually challenges the reader to think about the ideas, the opinions, the intellectual sensibilities and feelings of Max, Eleanor and the books other characters. It is a magnificent and challenging novel of ideas, a novel that deservedly won the Whitbread Prize in 1990.
If 'Hopeful Monsters' has any shortcomings, it is that ideas and historical events predominate at the expense of character development. It also suffers, at times, from a somewhat turgid prose style. In particular, Mosley is fond of introducing statements by Eleanor and Max with the clauses 'I said' and 'You said'. It is a construction that helps the reader follow long spoken exchanges, but gets a bit tedious. Mosley also tends to write sentences as statements with a question mark at the end. This, too, can be annoying, suggesting a rising inflection by the speaker that can hardly be the intent. These are, however, relatively minor failings in a novel which is majestic in the breadth and depth of its intellectual suggestiveness, a really big modern novel that deserves to be more widely read.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most remarkable books ever written 10 Feb 1998
By sfen@concentric.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book,one of the most remarkable books ever written, achieves the nearly-impossible feat of covering the greater part of the 20th Century through the very specific eyes of two extraordinary people as they fall in love across time and distance. Through a unique and internalized form of correspondence full of remarkable detail and expansiveness between Max (British) and Eleanor (German) we are led through their personal histories and their unique worlds, beginning in pre-WWII Europe and culminating in present-day America. Through the metaphors of physics and biology the reader is invited to look through a microscope and a telescope simultaneously, a sensation which is absolutely unbeatable.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Big Novel of Ideas 4 Oct 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In 1991, Nicholas Mosley resigned from the judging panel for England�s prestigious Booker Prize when none of his choices made the shortlist. Writing about the affair in The Times of London, Mosley related that all of his choices were rejected because they were �novels of ideas, or novels in which characters were subservient to ideas.� He went on to opine, in a statement that seems to apply as much to his Whitbread Prize-winning novel �Hopeful Monsters� as to his view of his Booker choices: �My point was that humans were beings who did have ideas, who were often influenced by ideas, to whom ideas were important. If they were not, then there was some lack in being human.�
�Hopeful Monsters� is a novel where character development is subservient to ideas, where narrative action takes place against big historical events. While it ostensibly tells the story of a life-long romantic relationship between Max Ackerman, an English physicist, and Eleanor Anders, a German-Jewish anthropologist, the romance is as much a vehicle for the promulgation and exploration of ideas as it is a tale of a man and a woman in the twentieth century.
�Hopeful Monsters� begins at the end of World War I. Max is ten years old and lives outside Cambridge, England. His father is a biologist who specializes in genetic inheritance and his mother is a woman of seeming artistic interests who had been �brought up on the fringes of what was even then known as the Bloomsbury Group.� His parents have had long ties to the Cambridge University community. Eleanor, too, lives in an intellectual milieu, one in which ideas predominate. Eleanor lives in Berlin, where her mother is a Marxist and follower of Rosa Luxemburg and her father is a lecturer in philosophy. From such beginnings, novels of ideas are made!
From this starting point, �Hopeful Monsters� narrates the story of Max and Eleanor through the rise of Nazism in Germany, the post-Lenin rise to power of Joseph Stalin, the Spanish Civil War, and the development of the Atomic Bomb. It does this while, all the time, interweaving Darwinism (and its Lamarckian heresy), Marxism, quantum physics and the uncertainty principle, Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian archetypes, and even suggestions of Jewish mysticism. It is a story that runs from 1918 until the 1970s and continually challenges the reader to think about the ideas, the opinions, the intellectual sensibilities and feelings of Max, Eleanor and the books other characters. It is a magnificent and challenging novel of ideas, a novel that deservedly won the Whitbread Prize in 1990.
If �Hopeful Monsters� has any shortcomings, it is that ideas and historical events predominate at the expense of character development. It also suffers, at times, from a somewhat turgid prose style. In particular, Mosley is fond of introducing statements by Eleanor and Max with the clauses �I said� and �You said�. It is a construction that helps the reader follow long spoken exchanges, but gets a bit tedious. Mosley also tends to write sentences as statements with a question mark at the end. This, too, can be annoying, suggesting a rising inflection by the speaker that can hardly be the intent. These are, however, relatively minor failings in a novel which is majestic in the breadth and depth of its intellectual suggestiveness, a really big modern novel that deserves to be more widely read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wars and love 27 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This novel is almost a history book of the 20th century but it is also a love story between Max and Eleonor, a British physicist, and a German Jewess who becomes an anthropologist and a psychanalyst who works with Jung. The two protagonists meet when Goethe's play, Faust, is playing in Germany. Einstein, Hitler, Franco and Jung, amongst other prominent figures of the 20th century, are always present in the novel. You have to know very well the part these figures played in our history to follow the plot, and to understand the atmosphere in which the main characters evolve. There are also many pages who are made of dialogues between physicists, numerous philosophical thoughts also. You feel very "intelligent" when you read this novel, and this is not a bad feeling indeed! The Hopeful Monsters are the Human Beings, who can be so violent and cruel, but who can also make beautiful and unforgettable masterpieces, such as paintings. The end could have been written differently and it would have made it a better novel, but it is a very good novel. It has the same erudition as Umberto Eco's novels. Finally, you have to be interested in historical events to like this book, if you are not, the love story alone will not be sufficient.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best novel hardly anybody has heard of 12 May 2002
By "martinaluise7" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was recommended to me a decade ago and I loved it then, have reread it several times and will always be moved by it.Complex, challenging and always idiosyncratic while adhering to the grand tradition of the novel of ideas it has passages so dense and stimulating you want to memorize them or read it out aloud to whoever is listening. It tells the story of two idealistic individuals who are caught up in some of the crazier movements of the 20th century and manage what is so hard to do; to adventure from each other's safety and still stay true to the idea of each other. Despite the depth of the political analysis and the complexity of the portrayed philosophies I have always thought of it as primarily a love story that is both starcrossed and redeemed. By the time the author imagines them at rest as "one of these everlastingly happy couples on an Etruskan tomb" and the cancer( of fanaticism? of loneliness?) is dying it never fails to make me happy when I'm sad or sad when I'm happy.
It reminds me of Niels Bohr who said that you recognize a profound truth by its opposite also being a profound truth.
You guessed it: highly recommended
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