As the book opens, the rising sun illuminates membranes of dew, nebulae of fragrance, and clouds of pollen. A pair of swifts, with a nest outside a chapel, converse about the dead man inside, while the not-yet-departed spirit of the man listens to the "music within the music." Details like these, in lesser hands, might presage the beginning of a heavy-duty Gothic romance, but here they introduce a lively and thought-provoking novel which investigates the serious themes of time, love, art, and science-and the role chance, fate, or coincidence plays in our lives.
The dead man is Wilhelm Bolt, a reclusive scientist who has been living at Ekelund, an old estate, with his aged servant Andersen, many hives of bees, a talking ape, a valuable art collection, piles of research documents, and a recently arrived grand-niece. Bolt has taken her in, hoping she will continue his research on the law of seriality, the strange conjunction of random events which we call coincidence, the opposite of causality.
The book's structure itself illustrates seriality, four seemingly random and unconnected stories from different time periods, all of which have at least one character, object, and/or specific kind of music, art, or science in common. As the novel moves from the present at Ekelund, to an 1898 shipwreck off a small Norwegian island, to 15th century Rome and Padova (a section which could have used some pruning), to a World War II research camp, the narratives feel completely different in focus, yet the reader's discovery of coincidences in them is startling, encouraging further examination and a search for more seriality.
Time itself feels random here, descriptions sometimes repeat, and narrators and point of view suddenly change. Ghosts, spirits, and voices appear and reappear. Despite the romantic stories, Hansen's style is remarkably business-like, however--factual and scientific in detail, rather than lyrical or flowery. Because the overlaps in the stories are not emphasized--and are sometimes actually hidden in the middle of a sentence or paragraph-readers will want to stay alert and read carefully. The novel is loaded with wonderful observations, the individual stories are exciting, the scientific detail is fascinating, and the novel's focus is unique, making this a stimulating read, one of my favorites for the year. Mary Whipple
Brilliant. I didn't care for the first story but the rest of the book flowed so smoothly that I was glad I continued slogging through the first
One of the best books I've read in years. Complex, erudite. subtle,the three stories keep you fully engaged but don't tell everything. Highly recomended