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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read this year
Two men in a field. One digs a hole, the other watches him. How, you think, can the author keep this interesting for 300 pages? This book gripped me from page 1, and kept me enthralled for its entire length.
A philosophical treatise that covers everything from the life of Genghis Khan to what exactly is in a hole, this book refuses to be categorised. Deep...
Published on 23 Sep 2003 by Matt Craig

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Nature of Evil
In a bitterly cold, snow-driven European village, the narrator marches through a field followed by another man and two soldiers. The soldiers throw a pickaxe and a shovel between the two men. The narrator, who turns out to be the village baker, begins to dig whilst the other man looks on. Gradually, as the observed baker digs deeper and deeper, the men strike up...
Published on 21 May 2005 by gavinrob2001


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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read this year, 23 Sep 2003
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This review is from: Schopenhauer's Telescope (Hardcover)
Two men in a field. One digs a hole, the other watches him. How, you think, can the author keep this interesting for 300 pages? This book gripped me from page 1, and kept me enthralled for its entire length.
A philosophical treatise that covers everything from the life of Genghis Khan to what exactly is in a hole, this book refuses to be categorised. Deep philosophical discussions. Laugh-out loud moments. Moments that will make your skin crawl and your hair stand on end. And a love story that will leave a lump in your throat.
Cliched and all as it sounds: If you read one book this year, regardless of your tastes, make sure it's this one. I, for one, will be awaiting Mr Donovan's second novel with anticipation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Nature of Evil, 21 May 2005
In a bitterly cold, snow-driven European village, the narrator marches through a field followed by another man and two soldiers. The soldiers throw a pickaxe and a shovel between the two men. The narrator, who turns out to be the village baker, begins to dig whilst the other man looks on. Gradually, as the observed baker digs deeper and deeper, the men strike up conversation and the baker realises that his heavily-smoking overseer is his brother's former teacher. Meanwhile, villagers are brought truckload after truckload to await their fate in a nearby field...
'Schopenhauer's Telescope' consists largely of dialogue between the baker/narrator and the teacher, canvassing a range of historical and philosophical issues - and in particular the nature of evil - by drawing upon anecdotes from medieval Europe to Big Foot and the Sioux Indians, Genghis Khan to King Leopold in the Congo. Although I usually enjoy novels that concentrate on ideas and issues, I found most of this novel tough-going and almost gave up on a number of occasions. It is difficult for the reader to feel any connection with either character as little information is given about the two men, and the scant information that is given portrays both in a bad light with the teacher appearing particularly authoritarian and the baker coming across as a swindler and a bit of a weirdo. Furthermore, except for the brief discussion of Schopenhauer's telescope and an amusing anecdote applying Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' to the shopping practices of the village policeman's wife, most of the historical and philosophical anecdotes weren't particularly engaging. Moreover, Donovan's various devices for conveying this information struck me as heavy-handed and gave the novel as a whole a contrived feel.
The novel more than redeems itself in the final thirty pages or so where everything comes together. Indeed, the ending is so satisfying that I have given Donovan's debut novel an overall three star grading. But it really was an act of faith to persevere getting there!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Nature of Evil, 21 May 2005
This review is from: Schopenhauer's Telescope (Hardcover)
In a bitterly cold, snow-driven European village, the narrator marches through a field followed by another man and two soldiers. The soldiers throw a pickaxe and a shovel between the two men. The narrator, who turns out to be the village baker, begins to dig whilst the other man looks on. Gradually, as the observed baker digs deeper and deeper, the men strike up conversation and the baker realises that his heavily-smoking overseer is his brother's former teacher. Meanwhile, villagers are brought truckload after truckload to await their fate in a nearby field...
'Schopenhauer's Telescope' consists largely of dialogue between the baker/narrator and the teacher, canvassing a range of historical and philosophical issues - and in particular the nature of evil - by drawing upon anecdotes from medieval Europe to Big Foot and the Sioux Indians, Genghis Khan to King Leopold in the Congo. Although I usually enjoy novels that concentrate on ideas and issues, I found most of this novel tough-going and almost gave up on a number of occasions. It is difficult for the reader to feel any connection with either character as little information is given about the two men, and the scant information that is given portrays both in a bad light with the teacher appearing particularly authoritarian and the baker coming across as a swindler and a bit of a weirdo. Furthermore, except for the brief discussion of Schopenhauer's telescope and an amusing anecdote applying Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' to the shopping practices of the village policeman's wife, most of the historical and philosophical anecdotes weren't particularly engaging. Moreover, Donovan's various devices for conveying this information struck me as heavy-handed and gave the novel as a whole a contrived feel.
The novel more than redeems itself in the final thirty pages or so where everything comes together. Indeed, the ending is so satisfying that I have given Donovan's debut novel an overall three star grading. But it really was an act of faith to persevere getting there!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not for lovers of action-packed novels, 22 Jun 2013
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
The two unnamed characters in this debut novel might have been created by Samuel Beckett. One of them, "the Baker", unmarried and self-educated, is digging a hole on a wintery day somewhere in Europe. He is watched over by "the Teacher", educated, married and self-satisfied, and remembers the man as the history teacher who used to teach his brother. The two are overlooked by soldiers manning a machine gun and we understand that the hole being dug is a grave, but for whom? The action is taking place within a civil war, generalised into the green uniforms against the blacks. What is likely to happen is foreshadowed by a series of trucks that unload civilians at the edge of a neighbouring forest.

Most of the the novel takes place within a single day, November 25th, and very little action occurs. One man digs and shares the cigarettes and drinks offered by the other man who stands or sits on a rock overlooking the ever-deepening hole. Hands are warmed, arms are rubbed and beaten. The cold, snow and freezing air pervades the whole novel and its poetic description is one of the high points of the book, "Ice and snow, wind. Ice and snow, wind. Stay alive. Stay alive", "Breath is frozen in flight". " The snow laid itself across my shoulders, drifted in my lungs, inches of it on my heart, metres of it on my eyes, knives of it between my toes, hells of it in my pores, rivers of its icy melt down my sweaty back".

For 300 pages, the two characters engage in a series of philosophical discussions and debates about the violence of war and the bottomless depth of human cruelty. This allows the characters to discuss morality and evil across four continents, citing Ghengis Khan and the invading Mongol hordes, Leopold II's finance-driven genocide in the Belgian Congo, the fire-bombing of Dresden and the slaughter of the Sioux at Wounded Knee.

We learn the Baker's story, his apprenticeship, his ousting from the business of the baker's daughter to enable him to become the town baker and the actions that have led to his day's digging. We also learn about baking, building ovens (which assumes a greater significance later on) and his attitude to customers, including Mrs Policeman with whom he has an ongoing battle, and is guided by General Sun Tzu's 2400 year old "Art of War", until he is able to resolve matters for good. The early parts of this latter story segment add little and, more importantly, act as a digression from the development of the overall story.

At first, the Teacher (and the reader) is surprised by the breadth and depth of the Baker's knowledge and there is much verbal lunging and parrying as one, then the other seeks intellectual dominance. The novel employs a series of narrative styles, including dialogues, discussions, disagreements, imaginary historical situations, questions and answers, film scripts, screenplays, fairy stories and courtroom scenes to create a many-layered text. Unfortunately, this introduces much greater complexity instead of, as one reviewer has written, "peeling back the layers of this harrowing story".

These interactions, presented in short, focussed chapters, are interrupted by the actions of the watching soldiers and by the women and children on the very edge of the forest and the narrative, "When you are anxious you can see better out of the sides of the eyes than ahead". Donovan's decision not to name the country, the time or the war enables him to focus narrowly on the two characters and avoid distractions that would distract the reader from the increasing depth of the hole, the passage of time and the approach of darkness.

The hole is really the third character in the book and is given its on meditation, "What is a hole". As the Baker uses shovel and pick-axe to clear away the snow and earth, and break up the rocky layers, the hole gets larger and deeper. Initially, the Baker judges his digging by what part of the Teacher's body he is opposite when standing up, then considers various digging strategies and finally he shores up the sides and increases its volume. He receives no instruction about what its final dimensions should be. The swirling snow keeps swirling down to cover its bottom and we know that the refilling of the hole will take a much shorter time than its excavation. It turns out that the hole was the right size.

This is an ambitious novel and, as with several other first novels that I have read recently, perhaps too ambitious. Certainly there was little in the way of hope that could be taken from the final pages. By the last page I felt that I had been out in the freezing cold for rather too long.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Schopenhauer's Telescope, 24 April 2004
By 
Louise Carlsson "louisecarlsson" (Helsingborg, Sweden) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I am a person who loves detective stories and reading a book just forplain enjoyment and relaxation. This book is not of that kind, but somehowI really got caught up in it. Usually I appreciate escaping from real lifeinto a novel which seems to take place in the real world with persons andsituations that are realistic, if not entirely likely to occur.
Schopenhauer's Telescope most certainly differs a lot from my normaltaste. It's a bit surreal and it's not "light" reading of the kind I'mused to. Still, it really captivated me. I wasn't bored one minute of itand the bizarr elements just amused me and tickled my curiosity. It mademe think about darker sides of life which I tend to avoid while reading abook. This is a book that made me feel really smart. I think it's veryimpressive for a writer to accomplish all this in his debut! Read it!
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars schopenhaers telescope, 23 Dec 2010
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I was told it was a brilliant book, as it was a gift to another person I dont know what they rated the book at
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Schopenhauer's Telescope
Schopenhauer's Telescope by Gerard Donovan (Hardcover - 22 April 2003)
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