2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2011
I bought this book for my wife who is a big Andrew Crumey fan - she particularly enjoyed Mobius Dick and Sputnik Caledonia. She has just started D'Alembert's Principle, having finished Music in a Foreign Language by the same author. She is very choosy about her writers and most intolerant of bad grammar or poor sentence structure. She copes well with Crumey's (for me) very complex story-telling technique and considers his writing intelligent and entertaining. She is pleased that he has maintained his writing style since he started getting his books published but suggested that this was an easier read than some of his more recent efforts.
on 2 May 2015
I have just finished reading this book for the second time, and have put it back on the shelf reserved for books to be read again. There is a lot more here than can be grasped from a surface reading. I notice that some reviewers are recommending reading only the first section of the book, which is a pity, because the full depth of the work cannot be appreciated without taking it as a whole.
D'Alembert is a historical figure who was involved in writing a great encyclopedia, with all human knowledge catalogued under the headings "Memory", "Reason" and "Imagination".
That is why the book has three sections: the first, "Memory", is in the form of an historical novel detailing the life and character of D'Alembert. The second part, "Reason", reads a lot like early science fiction, perhaps something like Gulliver's Travels or The Time Machine (H G Wells). However, it is actually an exploration, not of the solar system, but of some of the science and philosophy of science that is accepted today. For example, in saying that Earth seems to be real, but is actually not made of a solid reality as it seems to be, the author is demonstrating that particle physics shows most of the world we live in to be no more than empty space with an illusion of solidity. Also explored are ideas such as parallel universes, multidimensionality, and the language of mathematics (radians, in this case). There is much, much more meaning hidden in this section and it is a joy to try to root it out.
The final section, "Imagination", (of course, these names are not spelled out in the book, they are gleaned from the content) is likewise very deep indeed. The author gives the impression that this quality of humanity, belittled by D'Alembert himself, is the most important and enduring feature of our universe. The facts of our short lives may seem disappointing or even tawdry; science contains hopeless contradictions; our art may not live beyond us, as with the baker; our stories may not have any reality behind them. Nevertheless, a story, as in the one about the clock, can explain the universe and our place in it better than history or science. Maybe the universe itself is a work of art.
This is what I have got out of the book so far, and other readers may have discovered other things or have other opinions, but I feel that it is a work of genius and well worth spending some time contemplating.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 August 1999
People keep comparing Crumey to Calvino and Borges, I can see the similarity but there's a lot else too - like Sterne, Diderot etc, not to mention Flaubert, whose "Three Tales" came to my mind after reading Crumey's "triptych". These are three separate stories linked by a theme ("memory, reason and imagination"). The result is a fine read, though disconcerting if you expect a conventional novel. Paul Auster's "New York Trilogy" also comes to mind. The last story in Crumey's book is related to his earlier novel "Pfitz". I didn't discover this until afterwards but it didn't spoil my enjoyment. Reading "Pfitz" before this book might enhance your understanding, but it's not essential. Crumey's evocation of the 18th century in this book is remarkable. He's a unique and strikingly unusual voice in contemporary fiction.
on 7 February 2015
"Jean-Jacques! Early as usual, eh?"
Beneath the postmodern gloss this is crassness cubed. The trouble is it just doesn't sound like 18th century English. Shakespeare would not be treated to such indignities, except for comedic purposes (not by his fellow countrymen at least); one wonders at the author's presumption. "He's got a nerve," muttered Jean-Jacques. Add an adverb of your choice