Saturday, July 28, 2012

Music, in a Foreign Language by Andrew Crumey

This novel is very impressive. In a previous review, I was fairly critical of Andrew Crumey’s work. This book, however, made me see why so many critics have raved about this British author.

The captivating story revolves around two friends, Charles King and Robert Waters, as they struggle to live in a fictional police state in England. After publishing an underground pamphlet called Flood as youth, the two grow up to be professionals, with King becoming a physicist and Waters a historian. However, when Waters is tapped by the government to write a book on the English revolution in this alternate Britain, their subversive past catches up with them, and both are put under immense pressure to betray each other.

Besides this intriguing story, what really blew me away was the multilayered narrative style. The book is anchored by a mysterious narrator who, we are told, wants to write a novel about two people named Duncan and Giovanna who meet on a train. As Giovanna enters the train car, Duncan is reading a book by a surreal Italian writer called Alfredo Galli (who does not exist in real life). In due course, we learn that Waters is the father of Duncan, and the role that King plays in Duncan’s life.

The ensuing story is a collection of multi-layered plots that is beautifully written. There is the mysterious narrator (whose true identity we discover at the end of the book), the story within Alfredo Galli’s fictional novel that Duncan reads while on the train, the thoughts of Duncan, who is seeking to find the truth about his father's death, and the relationship between King and Waters, who must grapple with defending their friendship from betrayal. Like a beautiful musical work with several layers, this rich story blends and weaves various plots together to tell a wonderful story.

5 out of 5 stars