Codex

Codex

3.1 33
by Lev Grossman
     
 

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When hotshot young investment banker Edward Wozny is called to the home of an important and mysterious client, the last thing he expects is to be ordered to uncrate and organize a library of rare books. Edward's indignation turns to curiosity when he learns that among the volumes there may be hidden a unique medieval codex, a priceless treasure kept sealed away for

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Overview

When hotshot young investment banker Edward Wozny is called to the home of an important and mysterious client, the last thing he expects is to be ordered to uncrate and organize a library of rare books. Edward's indignation turns to curiosity when he learns that among the volumes there may be hidden a unique medieval codex, a priceless treasure kept sealed away for many years and for many reasons.

Enlisting the help of Margaret Napier, a passionate and brilliant medieval scholar, Edward learns the strange history of the codex's author, Gervase of Langford, as well as the dark, intricate tale that lies within the missing medieval text. As Edward's obsession with the codex deepens, friends introduce him to MOMUS, an addictive computer game set in a fantasy world that, perplexingly, begins to parallel the legend of the codex. Yet MOMUS confounds more than it clarifies, and it becomes evident that someone is trying to prevent Edward and Margaret from ever finding the elusive codex. As they race against an unknown enemy, the two begin to uncover secrets that the codex's powerful owner will do anything to keep hidden.

An accomplished, powerful literary thriller, Codex explores dark mysteries of both the medieval era and the present, keeping readers guessing right up until its astonishing conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
"Alluring and meticulous. Replete with a sexy duchess, a jaded academic ... and a shadowy programmer."
Santa Cruz Sentinel
"Blisteringly hot .... Put Codex on your list."
The New York Times Book Review
"Takes its place on the shelf of bibliophilic page-turners like Name of the Rose and Possession. Such a good story."
Baltimore Sun
"An exhilarating literary tour de force … mesmerizing from start to finish. A fabulous double-helix of a novel."
The Village Voice
"Transcends the current vogue for the archaic—linking the 14th and 21st centuries by considering the powers of parchment and PlayStation."
San Francisco Chronicle
"A genuine treat with its sneaky plot and richly-textured storytelling. Moves so fast you won't realize how smart it is."
Salon
"Plays around with narrative in classic postmodern fashion."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR CODEX
"A genuine treat, with its sneaky plot and richly textured storytelling. Moves so fast that readers won't realize how smart it is." -SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"Fascinating, compelling, and deliciously disturbing." -THE BOSTON GLOBE

"Takes its place on the shelf of self-referential, bibliophilic page-turners like The Name of the Rose, Possession and A Case of Curiosities, and it's as entertaining as any of them."
-THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

The New York Times
Codex takes its place on the shelf of self-referential, bibliophilic page turners like The Name of the Rose, Possession and A Case of Curiosities, and it's as entertaining as any of them. — Polly Shulman
Publishers Weekly
A young investment banker burrows deep into a labyrinthine world of computer games and literary riddles in this captivating thriller by Time book critic Grossman (Warp). On a two-week vacation before he heads for a new post in London, 25-year-old golden boy Edward Wozny volunteers his services to the Wents, the duchess and duke of Bowmry, two of the firm's biggest clients. Since he assumes they require his financial expertise, he is exasperated-and then intrigued-to discover they wish him to catalogue a collection of ancient books in the attic of their New York apartment. Captivated by the library of rare manuscripts, Edward finds himself oddly content in this mystifying world of words. A special request adds extra urgency to the assignment: he is asked to find a possibly mythical codex by 14th-century monk Gervase of Langford, A Viage to the Contree of the Cimmerians. Most scholars believe that the text-which predicts the coming of the apocalypse and may conceal Went family secrets-never existed, and that view is shared by Margaret Napier, a hard-nosed graduate student whom Edward enlists to aid him in his daunting task. Fixated on locating the codex, Edward becomes equally preoccupied with MOMUS, an intricate, frighteningly vivid computer game. Cyberworld and real world are more connected than Edward realizes, and he gradually discovers that the game is intimately related to his literary sleuthing. A trip to England and a well-orchestrated final twist bring this intelligent, enjoyable novel to a fittingly understated conclusion. Author appearances in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
During a two-week hiatus between jobs as an investment banker, Edward Wozny finds himself plunging down a rabbit hole when a wealthy British client asks him to sort out a room full of old books. Among them may reside the sole copy of a fabled and vaguely portentous 14th-century romance, A Viage to the Contree of the Cimmerians. Grossman (book critic, Time magazine) echoes Edward's desultory hunt for the manuscript in the picaresque plot of the viage itself-as explicated by ice-queen medievalist and not-quite-love-interest Margaret Napier-and in the strange virtual world of MOMUS, a computer game devouring increasing chunks of our hero's time and mind. As literary thrillers go, this is pretty slim stuff, plotted with a dreamy gamer's logic that lacks the complexity, plausibility, or stakes found in works by Ross King, Iain Pears, Arturo Perez-Reverte, or Umberto Eco. Yet it is hard to resist joining in the quest for such a tasty maguffin. A wealth of diverting book lore and fanciful arcana conveyed in engaging, accessible prose helps to make this an engrossing, if ultimately unsatisfying, read. Recommended for larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/03.]-David Wright, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Computer games, medieval texts, a corrupt duchess, and library arcana derail a young investment banker from the fast track. Awfully young meritocratic Yale alum Edward Wozny, having just cleared his New York desk in order to take on a dream assignment in London, accidentally, or perhaps not, encounters the Duke and Duchess of Bowmry as they are decamping from their New York residence. In the weird way of the computer game that follows Edward through his forthcoming adventures, the Bowmrys (family name: Went) are clients of Edward's employers and owners of a fabulous flat at the top of an otherwise tatty building, an apartment Edward comes to know when his employers inform him that he is to do a bibliosearch for their lordly clients who, when their library was shipped to the States to escape the Nazis, lost track of A Viage to the Contree of the Cimmerians, a book that might not actually exist, or, if it does exist, might be a fake. Edward, under whose Hugo Boss suit beats the heart of the juvenile chess prodigy who burned out at puberty, takes on the quest, enlisting the help of Margaret Napier, a quietly sexy and terribly serious medieval scholar he meets in the library where he's gone to research the author of the Viage. In his off-hours, when he should be packing for London, Edward ineptly follows the paths of MOMUS, a computer game full of subtle parallels to Edward's life and the plot of the Viage. Sleep-deprived, confused, but utterly absorbed in his quests, Edward is unwilling to be called off when ordered to quit by the Duke's emissaries. He is, after all, getting conflicting orders from the very sexy and considerably younger duchess. As in cyberfantasy, there are side trips andnarrow escapes and dwarfish types with helpful tips, and if Time book critic Grossman (Warp, 1997) weren't so smooth and dry, one might think about hitting esc. Sophisticated, scholarly fun and games. Agent: Tina Bennett/Janklow & Nesbit

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780156028592
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
05/02/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
270,010
Product dimensions:
5.32(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

EDWARD WOZNY STOOD squinting at the sun as crowds of people excused themselves past him in both directions. It was hot and bright. He was wearing a very expensive gray handmade suit, and he had to check what seemed like dozens of inside and outside pockets of various sizes and shapes before he found the scrap of paper he was looking for.

He turned it over. It was roughly triangular, with one clean right angle and one ragged edge, the corner of a piece of copier paper rescued from the recycling bin at his office. On one side was a fragment of a xeroxed memo beginning "...insofar as all holders of any equity funds..." On the other side was a name and an address written in blue ballpoint pen. He folded it neatly in half and put it back in the tiny inside pocket-within-a-pocket where he found it.

Edward checked his watch and set off up Madison Avenue, stepping over a NO STANDING sign that had been wrenched out of the concrete and lay across the sidewalk. In front of the corner bodega a man was spraying down trays of cabbage and lettuce and Swiss chard with a hose, filling the air with a ripe, wet, vegetable smell. A branching delta of glittering rivulets ran down toward the gutter. He stepped fastidiously between them and turned the corner onto Eighty-fourth Street.

He felt good-or at least, he was doing his best to feel good. Edward was on vacation, his first time off since he'd started work four years ago, and he'd forgotten what it was like. He was free to go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and could do whatever he wanted when he got there. He thought he would enjoy it, but he felt unsettled, disoriented. He didn't know what to do with himself, with this blank, unscripted, in-between time. Yesterday he'd been a hard-charging, highly paid investment banker in New York, and two weeks from now he'd be a hard-charging, highly paid investment banker in London. For now he was just Edward Wozny, and he wasn't totally sure who that was. Working was all he did, and it was all he could remember doing. What did people do when they weren't working? Play? What were the rules? What did you get if you won?

He sighed and squared his shoulders. It was a quiet block, lined on both sides with expensive limestone townhouses. One of the facades was completely overgrown with a single fantastic vine as thick as a tree and twisted like a rope. A crew of overalled workmen was wrestling a white upright piano down a flight of steps into a basement apartment.

Watching them struggle with it, Edward almost stumbled over a woman who was crouched down on the pavement.

"You know, if you're going to use that word with me," she said crisply, "you'd better be sure you mean it."

The woman was squatting down on her haunches, her dress stretched taut between her thighs, one hand on the pavement for balance like a sprinter ready to burst out of the starting blocks. Her face was hidden from him by the wide brim of a cream sun hat. A few yards behind her stood a white-haired man with a narrow face like a knife-her husband? her father?-waiting next to a cart piled with trunks and suitcases. His hands were clasped lightly behind his back.

"Don't be such a child," he replied.

"Oh, I'm a child now? Is that what I am?" she asked excitedly. Her accent was somewhere between English and Scottish.

"Yes, that's exactly what you are."

The woman looked up at Edward. She was older than he was, maybe thirty-five or forty, with pale skin and dark wavy hair-beautiful in a way that was long out of fashion, like a girl in a silent movie. He could see the pale tops of her breasts in their lacy white cups. Edward hated this kind of public display-it was like rounding a corner and stumbling directly into somebody's bedroom-and he tried to slide past her, but she made eye contact before he could make his escape.

"And what about you? Are you just going to stand there looking down my dress, or are you going to help me look for my earring?"

He stopped. For a critical moment a simple, diplomatic response eluded him. Almost anything would have sufficed-a graceful demurral, a half-decent witticism, a lofty silence-but he blanked.

"Sure," he muttered. Slowly, awkwardly, he crouched down next to her. The woman picked up the exchange with her companion-her husband, Edward decided-as if nothing had interrupted them.

"Well, I'd rather be a child," she said, "than an old man with a red face!"

Edward frowned, studying the glittering cement sidewalk and pretending to have suddenly gone profoundly deaf. He had somewhere to be and his own business to mind.

But he couldn't help noticing that the couple was impeccably dressed. He had a professional knack for estimating incomes, and he smelled money here. The man wore a perfectly tailored light flannel summer suit, the woman a fitted cream sundress that matched her hat. He was thin and a little ravaged-looking, with a thick shock of white hair; his complexion actually was a little florid, as if he'd just gotten back from a spell in the tropics. The luggage piled up on the cart was extravagant, made of deep green leather with a rough, pebbly texture, and it included pieces of every imaginable shape and size, from tiny cubical vanity cases to giant steamer trunks studded with gleaming metal clasps to a circular hatbox the size of a bass drum. It was old-fashioned, either vintage or a meticulous re-creation thereof-it had the glamorous air of an early twentieth-century transatlantic ocean liner, the kind featured in old newsreels being christened with bottles of champagne amid silent storms of confetti.

A sedan with tinted windows idled by the curb. On each piece of luggage was a label with a single word, in small or large letters: WEYMARSHE.

Edward decided to break his silence.

"So what did it look like?" he asked. "The earring, I mean?"

The woman looked at him as if a passing shih tzu had suddenly spoken.

"Silver. The backing must have fallen off." She paused, then added unhelpfully: "It's a Yardsdale."

The older man got tired of waiting and knelt down too, pausing first to tug up the legs of his trousers with the air of somebody being dragged into something that was infinitely beneath his dignity. Soon they were joined by the driver, a sallow man with a weak chin-a virtual straight line from his lower lip to his collar-who looked cautiously under the limousine. The doorman finished loading the luggage into the trunk. Edward sensed that they shared the older man's dislike of the woman in the sun hat. They were allied against her.

Something crunched under Edward's right heel. He drew back his foot to reveal the crushed remains of the earring. Judging from its surviving twin it must have been shaped like a delicate silver hourglass, but now it was a scrap of mashed tinsel indistinguishable from a gum wrapper.

Serves her right for dragging him into this, he thought. He stood up.

"Sorry," he said, without making any special effort to sound apologetic. "I didn't see it."

Edward held out his hand. The woman stood up too, her face flushed from squatting for so long. He expected an explosion, but instead she looked like she'd just gotten exactly what she wanted for Christmas. She flashed him a heartbreaking smile and plucked the earring delightedly from his hand. As she did so he noticed something he'd missed before: a drop of blood, swollen and fully formed, dangling tremulously from her delicate earlobe. Another spot of blood was visible on the shoulder of her dress right below it.

"Look, Peter! He utterly demolished it!" She turned gaily to her husband, who was brushing invisible dirt from his sleeves. "Well, you could at least try to feign some interest."

He peered at the contents of her palm.

"Yes, very nice."

Just like that, they were back to keeping up appearances. The woman rolled her eyes at Edward conspiratorially, then turned to the car. The weak-chinned driver opened one of the doors, and she climbed into the back seat.

"Well, thank you very much, anyway," she called back to Edward from the bowels of the sedan.

The driver shot Edward a warning glance, as if to say, that's it, that's all you get, and the limousine peeled away from the curb with a short, sharp screech. Were they somebody famous? Should he have recognized them? A little triangle of the woman's cream dress was trapped in the door when it closed, and it luffed frantically in the wind. Edward pointed and started to yell something after them, then stopped. What was the point? As the car turned the corner onto Park Avenue, still accelerating, Edward watched it go with a sense of mild relief. But he felt a trace of belated disappointment, too-the way Alice might have felt if she had decided, sensibly and prudently but boringly, not to follow the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.

He shook his head and refocused on the matter at hand. Edward was officially on vacation, two weeks off free and clear before he took over his new job in the London office, but he had agreed to look in on a client before he left. They were a married couple, colossally wealthy, and he'd had a small part in making them fractionally wealthier, a rather artful deal he'd orchestrated involving silver futures, a chain of thoroughbred horse farms, and a huge and hugely undervalued aviation insurance company. Setting it up had involved weeks of mind-crushingly dull research, but when he'd put all the elements in motion it had worked perfectly, like musical chairs in reverse: When the music stopped everyone else was left sitting down in an uncomfortable position, and he was the one left standing up, free to walk away with an appallingly large heap of money. He'd never even met the clients, hadn't known they knew who he was, but he supposed they'd gotten his name from his boss-probably they'd asked after that promising young lad who'd earned them all that cash, and that was why they'd requested him today. He'd been instructed to keep them happy at all costs. At the time he'd made a fuss about it-what was the point of starting up a new client relationship just when he was about to leave?-but now he was embarrassed to realize that he was almost looking forward to it.

The building the well-dressed couple was leaving turned out to be his destination: an ugly old brown brick high-rise left over from the nineteenth century. The windows were small and crowded close together except for the very top three stories, where they were twice or three times as tall as on the other floors. A cheap-looking, billiard-green awning extended out over the sidewalk with a much-trodden red carpet underneath it.

The doorman stepped forward.

"I can help you please?" he said. He was short and broad, with a thick mustache. His thick accent might have been Turkish.

"Laura Crowlyk. Twenty-third floor."

"If you are insisting." His bad English seemed to be a private joke that gave him a certain amount of satisfaction. "Nem pliz?"

"Edward Wozny."

The doorman stepped into a tiny alcove to the right of the doorway. It had a little wooden stool in it and an antiquated-looking intercom, all black knobs and Scotch tape and old yellowed slips of paper. He pressed a button and leaned down to speak into a grille. Edward couldn't hear the answer, but the man nodded and motioned him inside.

"I cannot stop you!"

The lobby was unexpectedly dark after the brightness of the day outside. He had a fleeting impression of dark wood and cigar smoke, shabby red oriental rugs and mirrored squares on the walls that were imperfectly fitted together. It was a once-grand building gone to seed. The instant he pressed the elevator button a bell rang and the doors shuddered open. It was a minute or two before he reached the twenty-third floor. Edward took the time to straighten his tie and shoot his cuffs.

When the doors opened again he found himself in a bright anteroom, as sunny and airy and open as the lobby had been dark and shabby, with white walls and a hard, polished wood floor. Opposite him his reflection appeared in a full-length mirror with a heavy gilt frame, its face misted over with age. He checked his appearance. Edward was tall and skinny, young-looking for his age-twenty-five-with sharp, pale features. His hair was short and very black, and his eyebrows ran in two thin, high curves that gave him a slightly startled expression at all times. He practiced his banker's face: pleasant, well-meaning, attentive, with a touch of sympathy-not too much-and a shadow of gravity.

A battered old umbrella stand stood in one corner, upholstered in some exotic-looking reptile skin. He imagined the beast that had donated its hide, shot long ago in some obscure tropical colony by a cartoon safari hunter with a pith hat and a blunderbuss. A pair of French doors opened onto the apartment proper. Edward let himself into a spacious sitting room. A sturdy young black woman in an apron was fussing with some knickknacks on an end table. She turned around, startled.

"Hi," Edward said.

"You here to see Laura?" she said, already backing away. Edward nodded.

She hurried away. Edward took up a position on the edge of an enormous and complicated oriental rug. Sunlight streamed in through a pair of impressively tall windows. The room's opulence was pleasantly at odds with the building's gritty exterior; it was like stumbling onto a secret pasha's hideaway. The ceiling was high and white, and there were some side tables standing against the walls, set with vases full of elaborate arrangements of dried flowers. In a small but expensive-looking painting, a pointillist person sculled.

"Is that Edward?"

It was a woman's voice, a low alto with a light English accent. He turned around. Laura Crowlyk was small and fortyish, with a long and elegant face, bright eyes, and slightly unruly brown hair tied back in a bunch.

Copyright © 2004 by Lev Grossman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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