Memory can be as much a curse as it is a blessing.
Representing a quantum leap forward from his workmanlike Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain (2002), Canadian author Moore here turns in a lovely Quebecois opus about people trapped by their memories, or lack thereof. Noel Burun is a hypermnesiac synesthete, meaning he sees words in colors. He also has a near-photographic memory for practically everything he’s experienced since birth; his recall would impress Proust. And like Proust, Noel is lost in the loops of his nostalgia—a single word can send him on an interior rollercoaster of sensory overload: “Noel needed to absorb a person’s voice, experience the distinct colours and shapes, before he could decipher the words themselves.” But Moore isn’t content to simply trap readers in Noel’s funhouse mind. His book—recipient of the 2005 Canadian Authors Association Award for Best Novel—is written as faux reportage, the work of a “professional writer-translator” assigned by the legendary Dr. Vorta to compile the story of Noel (whom Vorta has been studying for years), as well as that of Noel’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother and three others. The first is Noel’s complete opposite (and best friend) Norval Xavier Blaquiere, a devastatingly handsome Byronic French aesthete in the midst of a performance-art piece that requires him to screw his way through the alphabet. A potential target for his “S” conquest is Samira Darwish, beautiful, Persian and sort of lost, sublimating her bad-boy attraction to Norval by befriending Noel. Somewhere on the margins is JJ, an overgrown man-boy with a yen for inventions. Through a series of tricky plot devices that would be called cliché if they weren’t so enjoyable, all three end up living with Noel. Moore expends most of his energy on the inner life of the fascinating, dour Noel, but he also has fun with the book’s form, as evidenced in his occasionally humorous use of footnotes.
A kaleidoscopic melodrama that earns points for its high-art stylistics, yet still works all the emotions.