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by John Crowley

Pub Date: June 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-055658-7
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A lost novel by Lord Byron—yes, that Lord Byron—surfaces in present-day London and unfolds here, in a multilayered meditation on the nature of the self and of father-daughter relationships, all bound up in a ripping good story.

Alexandra “Smith” Novak had little interest in Lord Byron when she began researching his estranged daughter, Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, for, a Web site about significant women in history. However, while going through Ada’s papers, acquired from a mysterious character in a shady interaction, Smith comes across a manuscript consisting entirely of tables of numbers; with the help of her mathematician girlfriend and her own estranged father, the entire thing is translated back into its original form: a roman à clef of Byron’s own life—they think. There’s no way of being certain that Byron wrote the thing, but the theory is that Ada, a mathematician and arguably author of the first computer program (for her friend Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine), coded the entirety of her father’s novel before burning it at her mother’s behest. Crowley, known for spinning complex fantasies (Novelties and Souvenirs, 2004, etc.), here goes himself one better and inhabits the persona of another writer (himself a pioneer of the gothic and romantic) to create the heart of the work. Byron writes of Ali, a lost Albanian son of a dissipated Scottish nobleman. Ali is suddenly plucked up from his country and dumped into a foreign world, one of the English noble classes, and begins his peregrinations through wars, murders, dark and stormy nights—all swirled together in an ornate, darkly humorous tale. These episodes are sandwiched between notes made by Byron’s daughter on the text and lengthy e-mail correspondence between Smith, Lee, Thea and Smith’s mother, all about the progress of the translation and their views of Ada and Byron almost 200 years later.

Complex and satisfying, pleasurably dizzying in its layers and self-references, and addictively readable.