Atmospheric Disturbances Paperback – 2 Jun 2008
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‘Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances is playful yet profound, Murakami-esque yet original, analytical yet heartbreaking. It’s an absolutely stunning and unforgettable debut.’ Vendela Vida, author of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
'Rivka Galchen has written a powerful novel about love, longing, Doppler radar, and the true appreciation of a nice cookie with your tea. ‘Atmospheric Disturbances' is fantastic.' Nathan Englander, author of 'The Ministry of Special Cases'.
‘Reader, you are holding in your hand one of my favorite novels ever: Rivka Galchen's divinely hilarious, heartbreaking tale of Leo's search for his ‘lost’ wife Rema. This is a novel of Borgesian erudition, wit, and playfulness, though its obsessively pursued subject - as it rarely was in the Argentine's fiction - is love, the enraptured lover, and the mystery of the beloved, the intersection of love's fictions, realities, and pathologies. It is also as funny as any episode of the Simpsons (imagine Homer as a besotted and brilliant New York psychiatrist). The prose jumps with one astonishing observation, insight, and description after another. 'Atmospheric Disturbances' delivers unforgettable joy.' Francisco Goldman, author of 'The Divine Husband'.
‘Galchen has created a heart breaking puzzle of a novel. Hilarious and daring. The novel tracks the way we seek to destroy our most precious love affairs and, in doing so, our own sanity. The hero, Leo, is like a brilliant mad scientist trying to prove that the earth is flat, because he desperately needs a ledge high enough to jump off of.’ Heather O’Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals
From the Publisher
Rivka Galchen's `Atmospheric Disturbances' is an extraordinary, mind-boggling and entertaining tale which will challenge the way you view reality.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The blurb states: "Atmospheric Disturbances investigates the moment of crisis when you suddenly understand that the reality you insist upon is no longer one you can accept, the person you love has been somehow reduced to merely the person you live with, and how you spend your life trying to weather the storms of your own making."
All of which are true, though anyone reading the book could not help to think that the facsimile Rema is the real version and that Dr Leo has taken leave of his senses - maybe the fate of psychiatrists everywhere? Full marks to Rema for not giving up on him, though he appears every bit as gaga as his weather-changing patient Harvey (a name artfully chosen, I thought.)
On the other hand, maybe this debate is irrelevant. This is a closely-observed book in which not an awful lot happens but a great deal of time is spent deconstructing it in minute detail. At first it seems refreshing, though as time wears on you tire of Dr Leo and his anally-retentive ramblings. His tale peters out with speculation about how he might go on living with the doppelganger, though we have no word on what Rema's views might be on that. Maybe that's an opportunity for the next novel?
For me, the most decisive conclusion is that I want to visit Buenos Aires and maybe even Patagonia, though probably not with a self-obsessed American psychiatrist, nor with my wife or her mother or any of my clients!!
This is an intelligent debut which plays with our notions of reality and what we think may be true is in fact not and we are, in fact, living in a totally different reality to the one we thought we were living in. Like its circuitous plot the style of writing plays with the english language and knots itself in circles of thought and self-analysis. Comparisons are likely to be made with Jorge Lois Borges,Thomas Pynchon and, I would add, Jose Saramago. It is a surreal grasp on conspiracy theories mixing fact with fiction and shows what happens when a psychiatrist tries to treat and analyse himself, using meteorology as a guide.
You will notice that the surname of the author is the same as the meteorologist, Tzi Gal-Chen, who, it turns out, is in fact the author's father. The photos are real photos of her family and the meteorological works mentioned are real works. So perhaps this is a work of fact masquerading as a work of fiction, perhaps the Quantum Fathers do exist and are involved in a war with the Royal Meteorological Society. Perhaps Rivka Galchen is trying to show us the 'truth' behind the reality we think is true. Perhaps, as William Burroughs said, 'Nothing is true, everything is permitted'.
Dr Leo Liebenstein is a psychiatrist who believes his wife, Rema has been replaced by a doppelganger (or simulacrum as the author prefers to call it). As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that Leo is delusional, and despite his wife's best efforts, he simply cannot see that he is the one who has a problem. The story is complicated by Harvey, one of Leo's patients who believes he can control the weather, and that he works for the Royal Academy of Meteorology. Leo turns to the work of a dead meteorologist from the Academy in search of answers to what has happened to his wife.
Technically the story should be an interesting one - is Leo mad, or is there really a conspiracy going on? The trouble is, it doesn't take the reader long to sense that Leo is the one with the problem. Add to that the fact that Leo isn't a particularly likeable character anyway, and you have a recipe for a book that the reader is soon bored by. I found myself wondering how we were supposed to believe Rema's character would ever have fallen in love and married him in the first place, rather than caring about whether he ever worked out that she was actually his real wife.
It would have helped if there was a sense of progression in the plot, a feeling that Leo is changing as a character. Although he travels to Argentina (Rema's home country) there is little other action in the book. In the end the story is about whether he will accept what has happened, and come to terms with it, rather than whether he will ever realise that his wife is still the same person. The author does explore lots of subtle philosophy around the nature of reality and our perceptions, and the way what we believe or alternatively are prepared to accept, is more important than the actual reality. But for me that just isn't enough. I'm sure there are readers who will appreciate the depths of this novel - but alas, I'm not one of them. Reading to me is escapism. I enjoy a bit of philosophy and pyschology, and can live without an action-filled plot, but without a cast (or even a couple) of entertaining characters, it all seemed a bit pointless.
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