June 18, 2010

Review of The Book on Fire

Nice review of The Book on Fire from Ian Watson, celebrated British sci-fi author of The Embedding, and screenwriter for A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

What a gorgeous, sensual, and eloquent, though also economical, style! Such imagery. So many perfect sentences and observations. “Her laughter, like a crow fried on a tram wire …” “Coffee foxed with nutmeg …” If only Flaubert (who wanted to write a book sustained by the force of style alone) and Baudelaire could have read The Book on Fire. This Alexandria, not a city of memory but of imagination, is wonderful with its lighthouse and library still intact, the modern Egyptian streets and smells and foods so vividly evoked. It's a book of wonderful, consuming obsession, and reading it is a bit like a sacred (w)rite. “Occasionally a woman has snagged in my mind like a burr. Obsession does not make us monogamous, despite the fairy tales. Rather it turns the world into a woman.” How true. The Book on Fire is essential reading for anyone who loved Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nightmare or Durrell's Quartet, yet also it's entirely its own book. “A book is a world,” says the book thief narrator. What a world Keith Miller's is, gritty, surreal, intoxicating, full of wisdoms and madnesses, and always a terrible beauty deranging the senses.

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