Allen Kurzweil,
The Grand Complication
(Hyperion, 2001)

While this novel is a mystery, it's not one in the traditional sense. There are no murders here, and the mysteries are used more to offer opportunities for the interactions of the characters than as the plot points of interest in themselves. In that sense, The Grand Complication is more a literary novel than a mystery.

The "complication" of the title refers to a watch -- a particular one of great beauty and value. Even the book design reflects aspects of this part of the plot, in details large and small -- including the number of chapters and (numbered) pages. It's a clever effect and reinforces the self referential character of much of the book.

I'm not going to refer much to the plot; I can't without giving away parts of the plot that one needs to uncover in their proper time. I can say, though, that books are as much of a motif as the watches of the plot and book design. Book lovers will enjoy it on this account; we read so many novels in which the characters don't read, and it's a joy to encounter one in which books are the passionate interest of most of the characters.

One weakness of the book, though, is that Kurzweil doesn't integrate the book and the watch themes. The novel would have been stronger, especially in re-reading, if these threads had woven together conceptually as well as in the happenings described.

It's hard to comment on the characterization. There's no one normal in the book. The various eccentrics are entertaining, but never became real to me; this may have been Kurzweil's intent, however -- to have the plot progressing like "clockwork" and the characters therefore somewhat mechanical.

On the cover, Doris Lessing is quoted as calling this novel "ingenious [and] erudite," and it is both. I enjoyed it, and I think most bibliophiles will, too. People who enjoy intricate plots will like it as well, despite some ambiguities left towards the end, when issues that had seemed resolved reopen. The Grand Complication isn't a genre mystery, but will be enjoyed by those who like their mysteries more ambiguous and unexpected. I look forward to reading it again, and catching some of the details I know I missed this time!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 29 September 2001



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