Monday, September 02, 2013

An event mingling the beginning of worlds and their apocalypse

Where Tigers Are at Home, by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, is a massive, sprawling monster of a book. I have been reading it since March, and I'm finished.

It's 832 pages, and I read most of it on my phone (for various reasons, and that may have been a mistake). For all it's length, the reviews of this book are remarkably short. Most of the reviews call this novel subversive. I'm not sure I understand how.

I found this to be an incredibly difficult read (perhaps in part because I was reading it on my phone). I won't say it was rewarding, but it was certainly entertaining and for the most part engrossing.

He stuck the wax tip of the tube in one of his nostrils; when the shaman blew down it, he was immediately thrown back on the stretcher. After a few seconds of an intense burning sensation spreading through his sinuses, Dietlev had the very clear impression that the right side of his brain had frozen with no hope of it ever unfreezing. Opening his eyes, he was alarmed to see the sepia tones of the forests: the harmony of an old photo abruptly torn apart by sudden flashes of lightning, revealing incredible perspectives in which amber and mauve shaded into infinity. A Piranesian delirium, architectural tumors ceaselessly proliferating. He could hear the slow grinding of icebergs, the overthrust of continental plates. Distant whirlwinds started to stir up space with their spirals, cracks appeared all over the earth, which opened up like a round loaf under the irresistible force of the mountains. Stones rose in the air! Before he lost consciousness Dietlev was award he was witnessing something grandiose, an event mingling the beginning of worlds and their apocalypse.

The reviews identify several (five? seven? more?) narrative threads. Myself, I note three of consequence: the manuscript Eléazard is working on (i.e., the story of Athanasius Kircher), the story of Eléazard's ex-wife traipsing through the jungle on some esoteric archeological pursuit, and that of their daughter experimenting with sex and drugs on the beaches of Brazil. Yes, there are a couple other storylines, but they don't get the page-time these do, so while I think they're meant to have more weight, they are weaker and out of balance.

These three threads could almost stand on their own as separate novels. (Certainly, they're long enough.) Apart from a couple plot points, I fail to see how they fit together, or how they need each other thematically. I don't see the necessity for the sprawl.

However, I absolutely loved reading about 17th-century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher.

This novel feels Important. It also manages to make me feel dumb. I don't understand who the tigers are supposed to be, or where they are. I mean, there's some great story in it, but it doesn't hang together for me — I just don't see the point.

Thoughts and excerpts
No one can walk beneath palm trees with impunity
A slap in the face from fate
We haven't got anywhere yet
Returning to the bosom of obedience
Looking for the amazing
List of minor Chinese officials

Three Percent Review
[T]he various narratives that radiate out into seven different directions, each a quest of varying and dubious goals, but all of it conveyed with seriousness, more often with dark humor.
In the fictional biography, Kircher is an audacious blend of Don Quixote, Baron von Munchausen, Sherlock Holmes and Buckaroo Banzai, with a ravenous "taste for the fantastic, the extraordinary, the mysterious."

The friction Blas de Robles creates between facts and nonsense highlights one of his novel's primary themes: the fluidity of identity and history; the elusive solidity of reality; the uncertainty of veracity.

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