Saturday, January 24, 2004


The Cryptographer, by Tobias Hill, is not so much about a cryptographer as about a woman trying to understand the cryptographer. That the subject is a cryptographer is not particularly relevant, apart, perhaps, from his natural tendency to behave cryptically. All that matters is that he has power and money. He is money.

In the Globe and Mail, cryptographer John Law is likened to Gatsby, but he is not quite so pathetic or tragic.

The Guardian sums up the novel well, though I think it is mistaken in calling it "a thriller, however poetic and elliptical." The novel throbs with an underlying intrigue, but there is never a quickening of the pulse.

According to the Telegraph, "The plot lacks depth or plausibility." I have to agree. Maud Newton didn't like it at all, but I think it has some merit.

It is a character study. As I mentioned previously, the book offers some insight into money, particularly into people who work with money without having any per se. Anna Moore, tax inspector. She carries on her side a balance of a kind of power, a sinister but moral intimidation, only The Revenue wields.

Though the relationships between characters ring true and resolve as it seems they must, they are riddled with elisions. Hill uses a poet's trick of using empty spaces to give the content meaning, but I found myself working too hard to fill in the blanks. For example, while Anna has occasional obligatory dinners with her sister where they are as conversationally distant as strangers, there remains a "sisterliness" in their dialogue that I credit more to accident (and my ability to read between the lines) than to Hill's skill.

Anna's relationship with John Law starts nicely, but evolves not plausibly at all. Their initial conversation, believably, is imbued with innuendo. They engage in a dance of flirtatious contact over months. That a year later this woman might construe this as love and pursue him to the ends of the earth is just silly.

The prose is elegant, but the plot is a Prufrockian missed opportunity.

1 comment:

bobo said...

hey, I totally agree with what you said in the penultimate para. I just don't understand how they came to talk about 'love' in the end. Besides, I don't think the author clearly articulates his idea about 'money' except some 'poetic' whimsical sentences