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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"The Secret Knowledge" by Andrew Crumey (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"A lost musical masterpiece is at the heart of this gripping intellectual mystery by award-winning writer Andrew Crumey.
In 1913 composer Pierre Klauer envisages marriage to his sweetheart and fame for his new work, The Secret Knowledge. Then tragedy strikes. A century later, concert pianist David Conroy hopes the rediscovered score might revive his own flagging career.
Music, history, politics and philosophy become intertwined in a multi-layered story that spans a century. Revolutionary agitators, Holocaust refugees and sixties’ student protesters are counterpointed with artists and entrepreneurs in our own age of austerity. All play their part in revealing the shocking truth that Conroy must finally face – the real meaning of The Secret Knowledge.
A novel for readers who like intellectual game-playing and having their imagination stretched."

Andrew Crumey is one of the authors I buy everything on publication as his novels are interesting and different from both genre and more conventional mainstream, combining aspects of both. 

At about 224 pages The Secret Knowledge is a very readable novel which contains a lot of things to make one think and look up. The novel alternates between a present timeline following David Conroy, a washed out former young pianist of promise, and Paige, a young student of his of great promise too but who has been passing through her own personal difficulties, and an evolving timeline that starts in 1913 Paris with the ambitious Franco-German composer Pierre Klauer proposing to his fiancee and then moves to important periods of the past century.

The book has as common thread the "secret knowledge" composition of the title and assorted related paraphernalia - secret books, codes, societies etc and of course the many worlds theory from Quantum Mechanics, where the gun pressed to the head fires a bullet and kills one here, but fires a blank and the character escapes, or maybe he just refuses to fire and moves away to start a new life. Or in the same vein another character may have a wife, a partner or may be delusional about that...

The novel has superb vignettes of personalities and events - Walter Benjamin, Adorno, Hannah Arendt, the events in George square in 1919 Scotland, flashbacks to the life of French revolutionary Blanqui - generally kind of obscure today but it made me look them up and overall is a composition of very good to great scenes that ultimately do not quite add up to as fulfilling a whole as I expected.

Maybe that is because I've seen the secret societies, multiverse, etc, way too many times - though the author as former practicing physicist definitely knows his stuff and there is nothing jarring there - maybe because the underlining Marxist and anti-capitalist message of the novel sounds quaint as do the once well known names mentioned above who today are just footnotes when history has passed them by, maybe because it is ultimately too short for its ambition.

Highly recommended for an entertaining, elegant page turning experience that makes one think, not quite the awesome top 25 novel I expected.


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