Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hope in hopelessness

Maybe because I don't care for Mahler.

The Lost Prince, by Selden Edwards, has a romantic and time-travelly premise, but I never fully engaged with it. It is the sequel to The Little Book, which I haven't read and don't feel compelled to.

The Lost Prince starts in Boston, in 1898. Eleanor Putnam has returned from Vienna with lovely reminiscences and remarkable knowledge. She brings a manuscript she has written about Vienna's musical life; a jewel that will serve her in making her fortune; and a journal that outlines her future. Eleanor in essence leads a secret life, putting in motion events she knows must come to pass.

Spanning 20 years, the book is peopled by William James, Gustav Mahler, JP Morgan, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung. Eleanor sings Mahler's praises, so early in the reading of this novel I was inspired to put some on. And I was reminded that I don't really care for Mahler. Too watery. Too florid.

The narration mostly has the tone of a biographical account. There is detachment, but also a sense that the narrator is judging characters in light of how the narrator knows the story to turn out. It's an interesting angle that mirrors how the characters are burdened with their own foreknowledge, but it's to the detriment of forming trust with and extracting sympathy from the reader.

A lot of information is divulged only as its required, as if the narrator suddenly remembered that it might be useful for the reader to know something even though it occurred 14 years previously and there's been no mention of it till now. And as often occurs in biographies, when the "story" shifts to cover another aspect or character, some information is repeated, either to remind the reader or to reconsider it in a new light.

The title was a bit of a mystery to me. It's about halfway through the novel that it becomes clear to whom the title is referring, and only near the end that the title is explained (and it's not relevant at all). I feel the story lacks focus and takes a long time to decide what it wants to be about.

A good chunk of the ssecond half of the novel covers the devastation of the first World War, in the form of letters from the front and later in Eleanor's search of the hospitals and wards that house the unfortunates, unknown and unclaimed.

"There is a great deal of hope within the hopelessness of your mission. There are thousands of unidentified and unaccounted-for soldiers in the aftermath of this horrible war. The odds are on your side."

This novel is about 200 pages too long. The war sections contribute little to the plot; while the repetition of the horrors might work to great literary effect when used by some writers, here it's at cross-purposes with the biographical tone, and so it managed only to bore me. The text is very repetitive, to the point that I felt no guilt in skimming for several pages at a time.

Yet. The Lost Prince has a great number of interesting threads to pull on. The exercise of free will in order to attain that which is predestined. How the present, and even the future, informs our past. Jung's collective unconscious, and how our dreams can inform our waking life.

I know little of William James, and what I know of Freud and Jung is mostly learned from popular culture. I'd be curious to know how well their ideas are represented by Edwards. I wish Edwards had spent more energy on these men and their ideas than on the eponymous subject.

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