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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Personal Favorite from 2008: "The Ninth Circle" by Alex Bell (Reviewed By Liviu Suciu)

Official Alex Bell Website
The Official Page for The Ninth Circle at Orion
Order The Ninth Circle HERE
Pre-order the new Alex Bell novel Jasmyn HERE

INTRODUCTION: Last year there was a crop of new Gollancz debuts that were highly touted , so from those 3 or 4 novels, I ordered on publication the books that held some interest for me . The Ninth Circle was one such and while I knew nothing except the blurb
about it, I was hooked when I opened the book on arriving on my doorstep courtesy of The Book Depository.

The Ninth Circle is a first person novel and as with such, especially with a "truly personal" one as a journal, the reaction of the reader to the book is massively conditioned upon how he/she relates to the narrator.

OVERVIEW: In contemporary Budapest, Gabriel a man with no memory awakens
in a small apartment on August 1st. He quickly "finds out" some facts about himself - he seems to be English the way he thinks and talks, he has been here for a while, or at least he speaks Hungarian fluently, his full name is Gabriel Antaeus as stated on the lease agreement; later he finds a UK passport in his name, bank records and other similar stuff, but still no memory, no one looking for him, the landlady has no particular knowledge of him except that the lease has been paid.

Since there was a large sum of money in cash on a table, Gabriel thinks it unwise to contact the police or the UK consulate, he starts looking himself for clues about who he is and he decides to start a journal not to forget again. The Ninth Circle is that journal and it contains a superb tale of suspense, a psychological and then all too real thriller, while later powerful fantastic elements are added in for a truly satisfying mix; one which is very entertaining on a re-read despite knowing the answers.

Casey March is Gabriel's neighbor. A pregnant teen
on the run from her well off family and with a younger brother in charge to boot, she is also a very endearing character and her reactions to Gabriel's friendly offers to help, start from the natural suspicion to the final acceptance and the two form as unlikely a pair as any in recent novels.

Zadkiel Stephoni is a mysterious stranger who claims to be a theology professor and a close friend of Gabriel from the past, but there are some holes in his story.

The Ninth Circle stands at 260 pages and is structured as the journal entries of Gabriel in a period ranging from his "awakening" on August 8 to the stunning climax some months later. The "entries" vary in length, tone and frequency, and it's a good attention to pay attention to their spacing since I found it relevant to the book. The novel ends in a stunning way and while the possibility of a follow up is left open, the ending is very satisfactory.

ANALYSIS: "My name is Gabriel. There - I have a name. So there's no need to be afraid. But I wish I could remember ... something more. Seven days I opened my eyes and stared...
I 'm only writing this down now because I - ah - don't want to forget it all again. If a man doesn't know who he is, he might cease to be a person altogether. I mean, he might just sort of ... fade ... right out of existence."

These are the opening lines of The Ninth Circle and they just hooked me on the book making me reading it end to end in one sitting as well as re-reading it later to appreciate the little clues scattered here and there in Gabriel's quest to find out who he is.

But is the quest wise? What awaits at the end? - here I am sure anyone will figure out the book provides an answer to Gabriel, so there is no real spoiler to mention that indeed he finds out the whys and the hows of his existence, but the story is much more than that and as mentioned the ending is absolutely great.

While coming out as tentative, even naive and gullible, Gabriel is a very endearing character and he really grows on you. While Casey starts as a stranger met on a hallway and possibly having in common with Gabriel just a need to hide, circumstances draw them closer and the friendship and trusts growing slowly between them is very well portrayed.

I also found Gabriel's interactions with the worldly but strange Zadkiel Stephoni very well done, presenting just the right amount of information at the time. The religious imagery throughout the book worked very well for me and it added a lot of depth and mystery.

Budapest as described in the novel is the familiar city I had visited several times in the past and which had never failed to impress me by its combination of classic and modern, but also a city of churches and religious imagery that play such an important role later in the book, so its choice was quite appropriate for the setting of the novel and adds to it a lot.

The suspense builds and builds and the revelations that come do not disappoint. I found this book very, very compelling on two levels. First as a page turner that I did not want to put down until finished; second in the voice of the author which I liked so much, that her new novel Jasmyn (June 09, UK) became one of the most awaited books of 2009 since last year when it was announced.

Highly, highly recommended as a personal favorite, notable debut and notable novel of 2008.


Unknown said...

bought a copy of this book, really looking forward to reading it, i get to page 170, and the book repeats pages 43 through 90, and then jumps to 219 and continues the book until the end

gonna have to return it and see if i can get a complete copy


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