SEPTIMANIA by Jonathan Levi


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In Levi’s (A Guide to the Perplexed, 1992) long-awaited second novel, a failed Ph.D. candidate, expelled from Cambridge’s Trinity College, learns he’s king of Septimania, the land given to the Jews of eighth-century France by Charlemagne.

It’s 1978. Malory, an accomplished organist and tuner, is approached by pale and fragile young Louiza, a mathematical genius, while he works on the organ in St. George’s Church. As they talk, Louiza spins mathematical formulas that convince her the pair share a destiny. They make love. Unknowingly impregnated, Louiza is promptly coerced and locked away by American Cold Warriors to tackle the math that will destroy communism. Malory, not realizing he’ll be a father, searches for her. Then Malory’s grandmother dies, bequeathing him a worn antique notebook. It’s a diary written by a friend of Isaac Newton during a year in Newton’s life lost to history. On the last page, in Newton’s hand, is written, "I have found the One True Rule...that guides the Universe." Levi’s narrative is linear, shifting from England to Rome to post–9/11 America, with flashbacks to Newton’s era, Charlemagne’s conquests, and Scheherazade’s tales. As Malory seeks Louiza and, through a strange series of events, becomes king of Septimania, the narrative moves to Rome, where Malory takes residence in Septimania’s plush villa enclosing its sanctum sanctorum, an overflowing antiquarian library. The reclusive Louiza and naif Malory earn sympathy, while supporting players like Antonella, a beautiful Italian girl at Cambridge, and La Principessa and Tibor, refugees from Communist Romania, fill Levi’s narrative with esoteric meditations, allusions, and metaphors on quantum behavior, the Grand Unified Theory, Bach, music, love and loss, the nature of numerology, and Schrödinger’s cat, all laced with philosophy and wit—"The digital alarm blinked out the minutes of the early hours with a spastic colon."

A thoroughly intellectual postmodern fable, wise yet melancholy, meant to be read slowly and savored.

Pub Date: April 15th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4683-1248-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2016


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