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IN SEARCH OF KLINGSOR

Dizzying and prescient.

A search for one of Hitler’s masterminds frames a demanding dissertation on the role of science in the horrors of the 20th century: the US debut of an author of nine previous novels and currently the director of the Mexican Culture Institute in Paris:

Narrator Gustav Links begins by noting that the book he’s speaking in, classified as fiction, is nonfiction. He thus raises the first of hundreds of questions posed here about the purpose, nature, and reliability of facts, causality, and, ultimately, of truth itself. Links recounts the biography of Francis Bacon, who, after WWII, was a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. Measured and repressed, Bacon compares most of life, including lovemaking and plans for marriage, to theorems and hypotheses. Then Bacon’s supervisor sends him to Europe to find a man named Klingsor, the alleged plotter of many of Hitler’s evil deeds, including Germany’s attempt to master nuclear warfare. Links is Bacon’s link, as it were, to scientists who may have known Klingsor, or, indeed, may be posing as Klingsor. From their recollections there emerge no clues to Klingsor’s whereabouts, nor any unifying vision of modern science—the scientist’s opposing theories in fact form a maddening labyrinth. Further complicating the search are Links’s and Bacon’s romantic entanglements. Witty and compelling, the personal histories suggest that passion, envy, and revenge annihilate empirical thought. Links recalls the mad affair he had with his wife and the wife of a childhood friend, whom he despised for selling out to the Nazis. Bacon becomes involved with Irene, a Russian spy who detests Links. She burns Bacon’s ear with suggestions that Links is actually Klingsor. A besotted Bacon follows her line of “reason.” Finally, as it becomes apparent that Links has spent the past four decades in a sanitarium, the veracity of his entire account disintegrates. A wise Volpi offers no way out of his dark maze.

Dizzying and prescient.

Pub Date: July 11, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-0118-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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