Umberto Eco died on the 19th February 2016.
Ola: One of the world’s best semiologists, a medievalist, philosopher, literary critic, a keen, very observant analyst of modern media and communication processes. And, maybe most of all, a writer. One endowed with a wonderfully wicked mind. A person who understood bibliophiles like no one else. A person for whom a complex, demanding, intertextual play with symbols, patterns and cultural tropes was the epitome of fun.
Yes, it’s Wednesday and I’m back from vacation 🙂 Time for a review!
Tim Powers doesn’t write much, and even though he started writing a long time ago, back in seventies, the list of his novels is rather short. His most known novel is Anubis Gates. Have you heard of it? I haven’t, till a few months back ;). Powers is not a very well known writer, but after reading The Stress of Her Regard I believe that this is a problem that should be remedied as soon as possible.
Why? Because The Stress of Her Regard is an exceptional book. Intriguing, fascinating, visceral (literally!), terrible and amazing, and written with remarkable precision. The real and the fantastic are joined together seamlessly, which is all the more astonishing because Powers bases his books on real past events. He focuses on a certain point in time, on certain real, famous characters and the real events that they have taken part in, and around those historical facts he builds a fantastical story. In short, he artfully supplies us with a supernatural cause of historical processes and occurrences. In The Stress of Her Regard the real background are political events in Europe in the early XIX century – and in that setting we become witnesses to the lives of English romantic poets: Shelley, Byron and Keats. According to Powers, all their obnoxiousness, weirdness and irrationality should be ascribed to the fact that all of them were victims of another sentient race on Earth – the nephilim, a vampiric form of life based on silicon instead of carbon. Our guide in this subtly altered, subverted world is Michel Crawford – a Navy doctor, obstetrician and a fellow nephilim victim. We see the world through his eyes, and we witness up close all the temptations, rewards and costs of vampiric addiction.
Advertised as “the love child of John le Carré and Franz Kafka”, this new novel of Dave Hutchinson takes place in Central-Eastern Europe – our stomping grounds. It probably means that I will be a tiny bit partial to it – but to be honest, this book doesn’t need my partiality, it can defend itself pretty well.
We meet the protagonist, a young Estonian guy named Rudi, in a Kraków restaurant. He’s a chef, and he’s good at what he does. He’s also a bird of passage – been there, done that, in a lot of places, especially across Eastern Europe. And this singular quality of Rudi is seized upon by representatives of a secret organization calling itself Les Coureurs des Bois. Granted, it seems a really fancy name for a bunch of smugglers specializing in small-time espionage and smuggling people across the borders, but don’t let it fool you. This name has a history. Original Les Coureurs des Bois were French-Canadian woodsmen, “runners of the woods”, traveling the interior of North America in the XVI and XVII century with consummate skill, imagination and no respect for borders. They were the pioneers of an unmapped world. World of wonders, where everything was possible if you just had enough dare – and luck. Keep this image with you till the end of the book, where it’s very neatly used as a form of closure.