“Beautiful, otherworldly. . . . A metaphysical page-turner reminiscent of . . . A.S. Byatt's Possession and John Fowles's The Magus.” —The Washington Post Book World“Mesmerizing. . . . Reads like a late-night conversation at a sidewalk cafe between J.M. Coetzee and Ingmar Bergman.” —The Boston Globe“Pierces to the heart. . . . Recall[s] the scouring, dispassionate self-dissection of The Year of Magical Thinking.” —The San Francisco Chronicle“A luminous and unsentimentally consoling fictional addition to our consideration of the survivors' lot. . . . Searingly drawn.” —Los Angeles Times"The Plante focus is narrow and sharp, like a blazing spot on a vast darkened stage... It is beautiful. How can love, hate, cherishing, rejection, pity, and broken promises all coexist without canceling each other out? Such mysteries are at the heart of the family bonds David Plante celebrates; like the religious faith that frames this remarkable novel, they transcend analysis."—NewsweekTHE COUNTRY"Plante has created one of the most harrowing of contemporary novels."—Philip Roth"Haunting... A book that belies its slenderness. A great reckoning in a little room."—Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)THE FRANCOEUR TRILOGY"Plante is a powerful writer... capable of locking the reader in the mute, chest-crunching hug of inarticulate family love."—Robert Towers, The New York Review of BooksTHE NATIVE"Stark and powerful."—John Lancaster, London Review of BooksTHE ACCIDENT"A masterpiece of simple prose about simple surfaces."—Philadelphia Daily NewsTHE AGE OF TERROR"A powerful, courageous, curiously invigorating work."—Margaret Drabble"One of the most necessary and resonant novelists of his generation."—Peter Straub
David Plante's beautiful, otherworldly new novel is that improbable creation, a metaphysical page-turner reminiscent of other books around which literary cults have arisen: A.S. Byatt's Possession and John Fowles's The Magus both come to mind…Readers in search of an intricately plotted, neatly ordered novel that disgorges camera-ready truths and platitudes should seek it elsewhere. ABC's narrative is propulsive but undeniably eccentric…a daring book, and, despite its exploration of grief, an exhilarating one, unafraid of confronting the sort of philosophical issues that the late Ingmar Bergman did in his films.
The Washington Post
Two mysteries obsess Gerard Chauvin, protagonist of this overwrought novel. The first is the mystery of his six-year-old son Harry's tragic death. The second, onto which he deflects his grief, is the obscure question of why the alphabet came to be ordered in its familiar sequence of letters. A series of unsettling coincidences leads him to Syrian ruins and to other lost souls-a Chinese woman whose daughter overdosed on heroin, a Greek Jew whose wife was murdered by terrorists-seeking enlightenment in the alphabet. Assisted by a dotty Cambridge scholar, they plunge into the ancient arcana of writing, as if in the origins of letters they could find both a way to communicate their sorrow and a hidden meaning behind the seemingly arbitrary happenstances of life and death. Plante (The Family) imparts an eeriness to his prose-Gerard feels the shades of the dead crowding about him-but often lapses into inchoate mysticism: "we can only have an impression of everything all together and can never understand everything all together, because everything all together, everything in the world all together, is an impossibility." From the abstruse intellectual quest his characters embark upon, the reader doesn't get a firm sense of the emotional burden they are carrying. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
National Book Award finalist Plante's latest novel plumbs the depths of a man's sorrowful obsession with his son's death and, by extension, the obsession of all people with their deceased loved ones. Shortly before his son dies in a freak accident, Gerard Chauvin finds a Sanskrit message in an abandoned fireplace that spurs his fascination with letters and writing. Increasingly estranged from his wife, Chauvin becomes drawn to an eclectic group of bereaved individuals also obsessed with the origins of the alphabet. Bizarre coincidences occur throughout, yet, remarkably, in Plante's hands they seem natural rather than forced. The group keeps finding the same book, L'Histoire de l'écriture, whose cryptic messages lead them to London, Athens, and northern Syria. The more the group travels, the more they learn that the alphabet's origins, like the inexplicable reason some live and some die, is unknowable. Yet this gives Chauvin comfort, his grief even giving way to joy. Not to be confused with other code-breaking books, e.g., Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Codeand its readalikes, this work is both captivating and thought-provoking. Though at times heavier on philosophy than action, it should interest academic libraries and public libraries with strong literary collections and book clubs.
The death of a child commits his grieving father to a pilgrimage of scholarly investigation in this brooding 11th novel from the veteran NBA-nominated author (American Ghosts, 2005, etc.). During one of their lakeside summers, college French language teacher Gerard Chauvin overrules his wife Peggy's fears by granting their six-year-old Harry's insistent wish to explore a long-abandoned old house now "occupied" only by mischief-making teenagers. Harry falls through rotted floorboards (possibly concealed to rig a trap) to his death, and Gerard finds his own painful injuries easier to bear than the overload of guilt and sorrow that subsequently burdens his every waking moment. He clings compulsively to a scrap of paper filled with "mysterious writing," picked up seconds before Harry died, and, as he draws farther away from Peggy's efforts to rebuild their lives, a perhaps unanswerable question nags at him: Is there meaning, a possible bulwark against debilitating grief, in the structural arrangements of languages (e.g., in the symbols on that piece of paper, soon identified as the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet)? Determined to move beyond the meaninglessness of his son's death, Gerard leaves Peggy and, while dreamily seeking linguistic "interconnections," meets an Asian-American woman still mourning her daughter's suicide, and impulsively travels with her to London and a meeting with a learned philologist who can presumably answer questions both coincidentally share about language's elusiveness and arbitrariness. This stretches credibility considerably, as do ensuing encounters with a Sephardic Jew whose wife was killed by Greek terrorists and a similarly bereaved Chechnyan woman. Thenovel's ending, in the ruins of what was formerly Hadrian's Library (to which Gerard is escorted by a guide possibly sent by the dead), is as lovely and haunting as are its stunning opening chapters. Everything in between is, alas, numbingly discursive, turgid and redundant-albeit quite beautifully written. About 40 percent of what should have been a terrific novel.