An academic receives a series of documents from a deceased colleague, leading him down an obsessive path.
Critchley’s surreal and intellectual novel begins with a kind of memento mori: “I was dying. That much was certain. The rest is fiction.” That neatly establishes the mood of what’s to come: a meditation on philosophy and mortality that begins carefully and meticulously and slowly heads into progressively more irrational strata. And yet it’s also a playful nod to the more metafictional aspects of the book: the narrator here appears to be a version of Critchley, but the story being told can best be described as a novel, unlike the rest of its author’s work. The novel begins when Critchley receives a selection of documents compiled by his late colleague Michel Haar; in a glossary at the back of the book, Critchley notes that “much of what is said about him above is true. Some of it isn’t.” And so it goes: real philosophers interweaving, with brief observations on aging, culture, and Critchley’s fondness for the long-running post-punk band The Fall. Into this precise literary structure comes a series of precise intellectual structures: first, a series of memory maps, which take on precognitive abilities: “Their purpose was to plot the major events in a philosopher’s life and then to use those events to explain his demise.” And from there comes the structure that gives the book its title: a memory theater, a concept with which the narrator becomes progressively more obsessed. What begins as an eminently rational work slowly takes on a haunting illogic, a kind of intellectual horror creeping in.
This strange, mesmerizing novel is hard to shake, evoking lucidity, mortality, and weirdness in equally memorable measures.