A symphony of a novel, with a master singer—an oltrano, capable of hitting notes most dogs can’t hear—at center stage.
Tropes mutate. Indeed, they mutate “into life itself, taking command of the text altogether, making its story their story—so that it may be said of certain texts not so much that they are lifelike as that the reading of them is like the experience of living.” Thus warned early on, the gentle reader should know that we are somewhere in the interstices among fiction and philosophy and criticism—the realm of the postmodern, in other words. Fear not, for McCourt (Queer Street, 2003, etc.) does not descend into the incomprehensible thickets just for the sake of doing so or to disguise not having anything to say; his language is precise, always lyrical, even if the reader may be forgiven for not knowing entirely where he or she is. Suffice it to say that Mawrdew Czgowchwz—a “famously temperamental mezzo-soprano” whose second name rhymes with “gorgeous”—has a story to tell, a sort of “Moby-Diva,” some of it involving a drunk Josef Stalin, some of it involving wanderings among New York, Ireland and Italy, always congenial country for characters who command a dazzling range of languages and references, coming and going and talking of Michelangelo—and Schopenhauer and higher mathematics and Wittgenstein and “the incurable anguish of the world” and a few dozen other eminently mutable tropes. The plot is as anarchic as a Marx Brothers film, and sometimes as funny, at least if you’re a philosophy don or a connoisseur of gnomic utterances. In the end, not so much happens, but the reader is in for a fine teasing out of the proposition that “language bends not happily to man’s will.” Bend here it does.
The individual voices are not always easily made out, and the song is off in the land of Pierrot Lunaire. Still, brilliant, experimental fun.