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on 20 July 2017
I like it
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on 18 August 2005
This is a beautiful and daring novel - it reads like something new and genuinely modern. The writing mesmerises you inch by inch with rich, original ideas juxtaposed in such a way that I was completely absorbed. At its core, it's a story about energy and passions: a twenty-year old woman's passion to be real and vital in the world, and her maverick father's passion to pursue the mysteries of the invisible world. In 1284 Giles is a sculptor working on a High Gothic cathedral in France; its soaring heights are an architectural testament to the passions of men. In 2001, Giles works in high-energy physics in the sky-scraping Fermilab. He's chasing the so-called Theory of Everything. I was in awe of the way the two storylines - 13th century and 21st century - weave around one another. The story starts off slowly, seductively ... then grows into your thinking person's thriller, as each character is pushed to his or her own personal limit. The final pages will stay with me for a long time - a haunting image of unstoppable life-force at the very end.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 February 2014
Alison MacLeod's complex second novel tells two intertwined stories. In 13th-century France, Giles of Beauvais struggles to create a massive sculpture of an angel for the new cathedral, but is interrupted in his work when his daughter Christina develops a mysterious sleeping sickness from which she cannot awake. In 21st-century Chicago, Giles Carver, a physicist, is developing a daring new theory - but he too is interrupted in his studies when his daughter Christina falls into a mysterious coma. These men, so different, are also uncannily similar - both are heretics (Giles of Beauvais is developing a theory of the nature of angels radically different to any the repressive Catholic Church of his time offer, while Giles Carver's discoveries and experiments in physics amaze and startle his colleagues), both are widowers, having on-off relationships with an Arabic woman (Giles of Beauvais with the healer Athalie, Giles Carver with budding research physicist Nathalie) both have older daughters called Christina and younger daughters called Margaret (or the French equivalent in the case of Giles of Beauvais, Marguerite) and both men's daughters have visionary tendencies very different to the outlook of their practical fathers. MacLeod begins with the story of Giles of Beauvais, then goes onto the story of Giles Carver, then in her final section weaves the two together, asking questions about the nature of love, religion, the power of prayer and scientific discoveries in the world of physics.

I did not enjoy MacLeod's very bleak collection of stories 'Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction' on the whole, though I appreciated her skill as a writer. This I felt was on a higher level altogether. Parts were excellent - I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of religious life in medieval France, the story of Giles Carver's dead wife (who left messages in her books for her daughters), the account of Giles's relationship with Nathalie and Nathalie's experience of the power of prayer, and Christina's strange relationship with the railwayman Angel. MacLeod showed great insight into the characters' emotions and emotional confusion. As someone who only managed to do OK in Physics GCSE with the help of a good teacher, I'm afraid the physics bits of the book were for the most part over my head, but the questions that MacLeod asked about whether science and religion were incompatible were very interesting ones. But the number of questions MacLeod was asking, and the number of areas she wanted to explore (physics, religion, brain diseases and brain injuries, literature, art, child abuse and more) did lead to some problems with the book, I found, chiefly that the story jumped around rather confusingly, and that MacLeod didn't manage to unite her two novel strands into any kind of satisfying ending. I was left wondering what would happen to both sets of girls, and their fathers, and wasn't entirely sure of the point MacLeod was ultimately trying to make - that the girls needed to distance themselves from their controlling fathers? It all got rather confusing. However, even if I didn't feel as a whole the novel worked as a narrative, there were some wonderful passages to enjoy on the way, which would certainly lead me to recommend it, and to read it again. I'll be thinking about some of the issues MacLeod raised for a long time.
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on 28 April 2009
a most remarkable book. gracefully and deftly written, its many layers interwoven with virtuoso skill, it does full justice to its ambitious subject - the ever-collapsing quantum wave and the world-conjuring role of attentive consciousness. the narrative roves like a beam of light amongst the principal characters, mirroring themselves in their intimately connected timeframes. this is a hugely intelligent novel about the multi-dimensional nature of reality, and it will bear much re-reading.
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on 11 August 2005
I just loved the characters in this book. Their essence was so tangible that I felt secure in letting other threads of the story stray into unpredictable places. The thrill I felt while reading this book came as I found myself spellbound, and all at once carried forward on momentum.
In the early part of the story, Giles the French rebel sculptor is branded a heretic for his 'Arabist' idea that mortals might co-create the world. His daughter Christina cannot be awakened, like the proverbial fairytale maiden. Athalie, the Egyptian outcast from the town, is a great character who lives by an ancient hard-won wisdom. In the modern part of the story,
these same characters take on lives again, propelling the story in new directions. Giles Carver, a physicist, chases after questions of the hidden world - albeit in 21st-century terms. Tina, his daughter is a mystery in her coma, and, little by little, the story of a secret love affair unfolds with poignancy and beautiful, sharp detail. The Egyptian-French Nathalie also appears. Her story reveals the real cost of clashes of fundamental beliefs in the early days of this century. As popularly digested a theme as it is, it unfolds in such a way that there is no risk that it seems tired. MacLeod gives it a stripped-back quality that keeps sensationalism out of the building drama; so the sense of intrigue remains strangely everyday - and convincing as a result. Finally, there is the character of The Observer - perhaps most intriguing of all the characters.
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on 27 November 2014
I really enjoyed this book. The structure is interesting, but more importantly, it works, and the book is exactly the right length, not drawn out. The story is peppered with fascinating snippets of facts and myths that build up to a subtle conclusion that was really quite beautiful. Towards the end I was turning pages so quickly to see what happened, and it didn't disappoint. Reading this made me feel entertained and intrigued, and made me think. It was odd and enjoyable and an unexpected delight!
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on 23 August 2015
I haven't finished it yet but am well on the way. It's a little confusing at first, a mixture of metaphysical discussion and the story of a family in the 12th or was it 13th century. Later it becomes a comparable story in the 20th century and now is swinging between the two families. Really fascinating now and am enjoying it geatly.
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on 10 August 2005
A mesmerizing read. I love the mixture of modern and medieval, science and philosophy, mystery and straight-forwardness in this captivating novel. The structure is flawless - ideas, characters,centuries flow together beautifully. "Every story is the story of a secret" and this is a secret worth telling.
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on 17 August 2005
This is an amazing read, combining two fascinating stories with ideas about theology, mysticism and quantum physics. All too often novels with ideas in them can seem dry and hard to read. Not this one. The story bowls along, carrying you with it. A real intellectual page-turner.
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on 24 March 2014
I really struggled to get through this book despite really wanting to like it. The summary on Amazon sounds so interesting! And it is interesting, but also very confusing. I think it's ambitious to try to weave a story which incorporates different periods of time, quantum physics, philosophy and religion, so kudos to the author for having that ambition, but for me, it just didn't work as an enjoyable read. I was left with far too many questions at the end which feels frustrating. I have spent time on Wikipedia reading about Avicenna and Beauvais Cathedral and incubi - which has been educational, but I still don't get how the ideas in the book are meant to hang together.
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