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Customer Review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, often brilliantly inventive book... but ultimately infuriating, 13 July 2008
This review is from: The Invention of Everything Else (Hardcover)
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This looked right up my street. It was described in various places as weird and wonderful, uplifting, original...and a `biographically accurate' (this from the publisher) look at the life of Nikola Tesla, real-life scientist, genius and extremely naÔve businessman.

Nowadays he's no more than a footnote in the lives of other more celebrated names like Edison and Marconi. But Tesla invented AC electrical power before Edison took credit for bringing electricity to the world. And he formulated the principles of radio transmission years before Marconi's patent. He was the original mad scientist with many ideas ahead of his time - including a lot of crackpot ones - and he suffered from psychological disorders such as OCD and germ phobia. He inspired various cults throughout his life: some thought he came from Venus, others that he came from the future. He was celebrated, ridiculed, reviled, considered dangerous even. A worthy subject for a great novel then, you would have thought.

Unfortunately this isn't it.

The core story depicts Tesla in 1945, an octogenarian coming to the end of his days in a big New York Hotel where he's several years behind with his bill payments. A pigeon lover, he's befriended by a snooping young hotel chambermaid and fellow pigeon fancier, Louisa. He still experiments and maintains a laboratory of sorts in his room and at one stage he shorts all the electrical power within the hotel. Even at his advanced age he's still considered subversive and is being investigated by an unnamed government agency.

The interaction between Louisa and Tesla provides the book with some of its most touching scenes, and this is all well and good. However, I kept wanting the book to settle into a linear narrative and I was disappointed: it is too unfocussed and flits about all over the place.

For example, during the course of ` The Invention of Everything Else', we go back into Tesla's past: back to the 1890s when as a young engineering graduate, he's scammed by Edison into putting Edison's commercial laboratory in order for a promised, but not delivered fee. Further back to his birth in Serbia and the early death of his brilliant, talented elder brother, for which he'll always carry guilt. Back to episodes from various periods involving his friends Robert and Katherine - which Louisa reads about when looking over the private papers he stores in his hotel room. In addition to this we also establish Louisa's back-story... and her father, Walter's.

This is all very infuriating, and the novel for me, entirely loses its way amid all the flashbacks and sub-plots. It's far too patchy, and while undoubtedly containing plenty of original ideas and passages of astonishing writing of great beauty and insight, it doesn't form a cohesive whole.

For example, at one stage Tesla is still meeting, and confiding in his great friend Sam Clemens (i.e. Samuel Langhorne Clemens - Mark Twain). But this is 1945 and by that time Twain had been dead 20 years...

And a time machine makes its appearance. This is an invention of Azor, an old friend of Louisa's father, but he gets some help in fixing it from Arthur, Louisa's sort-of boyfriend who remembers Louisa from school - although she doesn't remember him. Azor wants to take Tesla to the future where he feels his ideas belong. During a `test drive' - pursued by the army, Azor and Walter seem to travel back in time, and then forward, again. Or do they? This is never fully explained to my satisfaction. And what does it all mean anyway? Throw in a couple of passages of magical realism, and you have one big melting pot of too many ideas and styles.

Like I said earlier, this has all the ingredients to be a great story, and author Samantha Hunt is an undeniably gifted writer. Instead it all ends unsatisfactorily and is structurally a bit of a mess. A difficult novel to read, but not for the right reasons, it nevertheless enthralled and frustrated me in equal measure. But I cannot deny that the author's prose soars in one or two places.

To award a novel of such high purpose less than 3 stars would be an insult to the author's skill. And I know a lot of people will love this novel, even if I didn't quite grasp the significance of it all.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Aug 2009 17:47:02 BDT
BlestMiss T says:
Brilliantly written review. I couldn't express my own sentiments better than this. On the money...esp about the rating.

Shalom x

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2009 21:08:33 BDT
Hi BlestMiss T: I returned home tonight depressed and emotionally tired from a quite horrible week at work, then I read your comment and it made me smile. Thank you so much and bless you, even though I don't think my review - having just re-read it - is anything special.

Have a lovely weekend. Garry.

Posted on 10 Jun 2010 20:40:18 BDT
Eileen Shaw says:
I agree completely with your review GJ, in fact this could almost be a copy of my review of this same book! Great minds and all that...

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jun 2010 09:12:29 BDT
Eileen, thank you very much - I will check out your review.

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