Landragin careens through time, space, and multiple genres in his ambitious, sparkling debut. The reader is given a choice in the preface by the first of many narrators, a Paris bookbinder who claims to have discovered a manuscript: read it cover to cover, or follow mysterious instructions for zigzagging through three separate narratives. One of these is purportedly a lost story written by the poet Charles Baudelaire. Another follows doomed lovers, a mysterious woman named Madeleine and a man who may or may not be the German-Jewish writer Walter Benjamin, searching for Baudelaire’s lost manuscript on the eve of the Nazi occupation of Paris. The third is told by a pre-colonial south sea island magus who travels through history via the souls of others, including Baudelaire and Madeleine, to link the three stories together. Landragin colors each section with playful references to other historical figures, from French navigator Etienne Marchand to Coco Chanel and Arthur Koestler. While tacking back and forth through the three narratives is going to require more effort than some readers will be willing to give, the author has a talent for injecting intrigue and answers into his literary puzzle at all the right moments while deepening themes of memory and migration. Landragin’s seductive literary romp shines as a celebration of the act of storytelling. (July)
August 2020 Indie Next Pick!
"A sparkling debut. Landragin’s seductive literary romp shines as a celebration of the act of storytelling." —Publishers Weekly
"Romance, mystery, history, and magical invention dance across centuries in an impressive debut novel. Landragin layers historical fiction, metafiction, mystery, fantasy, myth, and romance in a way that might remind readers of such books as Cloud Atlas, Life After Life, The Time Traveler’s Wife—or even Dan Brown’s conspiracy-based adventures, albeit with more elegant prose Landragin carries off the whole handsomely written enterprise with panache." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred)
"This novel is outstanding for its sheer inventiveness. The alternative ordering of chapters creates a tension that heightens the awareness of the interlocking aspects of time and space, while deft writing seduces the reader in a complex tale of pursuit, denial, and retribution moving from past to future. Highly recommended." —Library Journal (Starred)
"A high-concept speculative adventure novel executed with intelligence and grace...an invigorating puzzle of a book that reads like a complete, intricate work of genre-defying fiction."
"Netflix would do well to option it immediately." —New York Times Book Review
"Alex Landragin has created something entirely original." —Shelf Awareness
"An exquisite novel. My initial melancholy rage at not having written it myself swiftly transformed into blissful gratitude that it exists at all, and that I am lucky enough to read it. Sure to be one of the biggest literary events of the year."
—Sam J. Miller, Nebula Award Winning author of Blackfish City
"This delightful puzzle box of a novel is full of clever structural tricks that echo works by Nabokov and Cortazar, but Crossings goes beyond postmodern gamesmanship and finds real heart and soul in its compelling characters and old-fashioned storytelling ethos. Alex Landragin has given us a deeply satisfying read!"
—Dan Chaon, author of Ill Will
"Crossings is at once a romance, a puzzle box, and a supernatural mystery that spans not only the globe but also the centuries. Landragin has crafted a richly imaginative novel sure to appeal to fans of Cloud Atlas and Possession."
—Tom Sweterlitsch, award-winning author of The Gone World
“Crossings is playful, obsessive, romantic, intelligent, and wholly absorbing, with fascinations enough for a whole shelf of novels. I followed its alternate sequence rather than its conventional one, and reading it I had the unusual—for me maybe even unprecedented—sense, no matter where I was in the page count, that I was always occupying its exact center. Like its characters, I was never sure how close I was to the beginning of the story, how close to the end, which gave it an aura of inexhaustibility. It's a book that feels not endless but endlessly replenishable."
—Kevin Brockmeier, New York Times Bestselling author
“Alex Landragin works a vast magician’s kit of erudite invention and heart in this enchanting debut. Crossings is a novel to savor and re-read."
—Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
DEBUT This highly imaginative novel allows the reader to decide the order of the narrative. Read sequentially, the book is a related set of intersecting tales. Read as defined by a note to the reader, the book assumes an interleaved wholeness, with the end of the story occurring in the middle. The premise of the tale is the existence of the human ability to "cross," that is, to switch consciousness between two bodies. This first occurs on a remote Pacific isle where a Native, Koahu, crosses with a French ship's doctor. A second islander, Alula, crosses with a seaman from the same ship to pursue Koahu, her soul mate. Thus begins the world- and time-spanning journey of Alula pursuing Koahu. Multiple lives are touched through multiple crossings, including those of the famous poet Charles Baudelaire and his lover Madeleine. The narrative is made more complex by a malevolent force pursuing the original lovers. VERDICT This novel is outstanding for its sheer inventiveness. The alternative ordering of chapters creates a tension that heightens the awareness of the interlocking aspects of time and space, while deft writing seduces the reader in a complex tale of pursuit, denial, and retribution moving from past to future. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 1/15/20.]—Henry Bankhead, San Rafael P.L., CA
Romance, mystery, history, and magical invention dance across centuries in an impressive debut novel.
Landragin layers historical fiction, metafiction, mystery, fantasy, myth, and romance in a way that might remind readers of such books as Cloud Atlas, Life After Life, The Time Traveler’s Wife—or even Dan Brown’s conspiracy-based adventures, albeit with more elegant prose. Its preface begins with a metafictional tease: “I didn’t write this book. I stole it.” The narrator sets forth the history of three manuscripts delivered to him for bookbinding by a wealthy client in contemporary Paris. Each novella has a different author/narrator, including two based on real people: There's a creepy story supposedly written by poet Charles Baudelaire, a World War II noir romance by critic/novelist Walter Benjamin, and a surrealistic memoir by someone described as “a kind of deathless enchantress.” The tales’ relation to one another, the preface narrator promises, will be revealed, whether we read the three in order or in the “Baroness sequence,” named for the manuscript’s ill-fated owner, which interlaces chapters from all three into one novel. “The Education of a Monster” is Baudelaire’s self-portrait of a colossally self-centered snob. His poetic reputation endures, however, in Benjamin's “City of Ghosts,” as the posh Baudelaire Society becomes the epicenter of a breathless mystery, playing out as the Nazis advance upon the city. “Tales of the Albatross” is the fantastic story that lies behind the other two, beginning with the arrival of the first Europeans on a remote island in Polynesia. Narrated by a young woman called Alula, its tragic love story is set in motion when a crossing, or rather two of them, occurs. Long practiced by the island’s people, the crossing is a spiritual exchange in which two carefully prepared individuals pass into each other’s bodies. But these crossings go terribly sideways, and Alula’s search for her beloved, Koahu, will take her through seven bodies and across two centuries, through the lives of a globe-circling sailor, a woman born enslaved on a Louisiana plantation, a terribly disfigured Belgian heiress, and a hypnotist-turned-psychologist, among others. In whatever order you read, Landragin carries off the whole handsomely written enterprise with panache.
This novel intrigues and delights with an assured orchestration of historical research and imaginative flights.