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Mr. Mee by Andrew Crumey
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Mr. Mee (2002)

by Andrew Crumey

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זקן בן שמונים מגלה את האינטרנט. אהבתי.​ ( )
  amoskovacs | Jul 18, 2014 |
Billed as a literary thriller with puzzles to please the readers of Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn, this book does have a character who is looking for a possibly nonexistent but potentially interesting book, but ultimately, not only fails to comment on books, the hunt for missing books, the content of the missing book, and the methods of book hunting, but barrages the reader with drab passages from putative other works (yes, yes, of course that's very "meta-" but the passages are still dull), stilted dialogue packed with pseudophilosophical discussion, a distinct lack of development of the idea first presented as possibly existing in the missing book (a school of philosophy called "Xanthism" that is referenced directly only a handful of times beyond the first three chapters and not incorporated metaphorically, despite obvious opportunities to do so, in the rest of the story), jarring changes of point of view, and dislocating switches of topic that are - eventually - connected, if loosely as bits of paper on a string. Perhaps the author thought that was "meta-" as well, since one of the characters (fictional?) supposedly uses the (fictional?) missing book to construct a (functional?) primitive logical apparatus or computer that produces (oh ha ha) only the results he wants.

The three stories do connect in that the characters are within three degrees of separation of each other and each have thoughts about something to do with the putative missing book. They also can be summarized as follows: The titular character, an old man who is utterly disconnected from reality (oh, was this supposed to reflect the putative missing book's author's distance from the accepted authorities on his putative book's topics in his putative day? That was obscure) descends, with slapstick and utterly unbelievable naivete, into a world of prurience, illegal drugs, and the Internet while looking for a book because he happened to stumble across a mention of it; two men who look like Abbott and Costello, interact at a slightly lower level of emotional intelligence than Bert and Ernie, and are not clearly book-within-book-fictional-people or real people despite the implication of the Epilogue, are supposedly copying the book now being sought by Mr. Mee, but have no particular insight into the aspect of the book that interested Mr. Mee and, instead, engage in hijinks purporting to explain the mental decline of J.-J. Rousseau; a professor whose dissertation proposed to disprove the existence of the preceding two men as well as the five children Rousseau claimed to have abandoned becomes obsessed with a student and ends up hospitalized a la Proust. Wait, there's one more character, a lascivious (who isn't in this book) technician whose commentary on his equipment, a glorified radio, is, like the ridiculous explorations of Minard (the Ernie figure mentioned above), the naive stumblings of Mr. Mee, and the dual life of the professor's student, supposed to prefigure the prevalence and uses of the Internet. Also, he happens to meet Proust and inspire him not with the story of his ancestor (surprise! Minard) but, by complete tangent, the title of his novel; then he also happens to have abandoned a child who happens to be the eponymous Mr. Mee.

Yes, there are convolutions. Yes, there is commentary on the cultural phenomenon and use of the internet, the importance of memory, the potentially disjunctive avenues of scientific exploration, the selective creation of self paralleling the selective inclusion of knowledge in works of science (Diderot's Encyclopedia makes a cameo appearance). Yes, there are parallels that can be unpacked between assorted famous authors, the invented characters who knew them, and the modern people working on or connected inadvertently to them. But the failure of the book even to capitalize on the opening idea, a group of philosophers called the Xanthics who believed yellow to be the essential color and fire to be alive, coupled with the slapstick prurience of the sections about Mr. Mee and the icky self-indulgence of the professor and the pedantic botchery and uncomprehending posturing of the two French characters, Minard and Ferrand (the one like Bert), render the tone so unpleasantly impenetrable as to make the quest for this book, "Mr. Mee" by Andrew Crumey, as abortive a quest as Mee's search for Rosier's Encyclopedia. ( )
  Nialle | Nov 8, 2013 |
Mr Mee is an improbably naive octogenarian antiquary, living in Glasgow and writing occasional twee essays for journals like The Scots Magazine. His current obsession concerns two minor players in the life of Jean Jacques Rousseau called Ferrand and Minard. His battleaxe housekeeper suggests he get himself a computer rather than continue trying to research such subjects through his dirty, dusty old books. It's not long before his surfing of the interwebs leads him to the joys of online porn: there's this live webcam, you see, showing a naked woman (in whom Mr Mee has no more than mild interest) boredly reading a book about . . . Ferrand and Minard! Next thing he knows, he's having a torrid affair with a youthful masseuse, Catriona. In another of the three narrative strands making up this book, a middle-aged university lecturer is wishing he could have a torrid, adulterous affair with a youthful student, and believes himself to be playing her as skilfully as any trout angler. The third strand involves the two 18th-century copyists Ferrand and Minard who, through their incompetence, succeed in losing from history all trace of a revolutionary encyclopedia of human knowledge full of speculations and theorems that would have seemed insane to the editors of L'Encyclopédie; various of the lost essays -- as for example the one concerning a philosopher's discovery that the laws of nature can be represented by arrangements of furniture and domestic implements, meaning that arrangements of furniture and domestic implements can be used to generate new laws of nature -- pepper the text, often to very entertaining effect. Such modern concepts as quantum theory, special relativity, social networking, Mendel's Theory of Heredity and the world wide web are prefigured by the various 18th-century French authors. But are these essays really all that they might seem?

Of course, the whole way through I was having to stop myself identifying Mr Mee with Arthur Mee, the editor/author of The Children's Encyclopedia, a compilation that haunted my childhood.

I spent the first 50 or 100 pages enchanted by the conceits of this book, and laughing a lot. After that, though, the sexual elements of the text, which had earlier been just ribald fun (Mr Mee's discovery, looking at the naked woman on his screen, thinking: So that's why Ruskin was so upset!), began to seem instead a bit voyeuristic, or masturbatory, or both; in other words, even while I continued to be entertained by the book's various nat phil fancies, I had the horrid sensation of my skin crawling. Had the novel been porn, I'd have been unruffled; had it been Laurell K. Hamilton, I'd have been either giggling or throwing the book at the wall; as it was, I was just . . . somehow uneasy.

So:

Don't take my word for it. Your reaction to the text might be quite different. You may find yourself slapping your thighs with mirth all through the passages I thought were a bit seedy. But, for me, despite very many good things, this book left a faintly nasty taste. ( )
1 vote JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
I ordered some of the author's other books before I was even halfway through with this one because I was enjoying the book immensely, particularly the presentation of the characters, Mr. Mee and his housekeeper. But I found myself struggling with the reading of the book after the housekeeper no longer was a character in the story.
  moibibliomaniac | Jun 3, 2011 |
The novel covers so much ground, and so many different points of view and angles that I was unable to connect the dots. It is not clear how the Ferrand and Minard chapters connect to the rest of the book. It is quite clear that Ferrand and Minard are unreliable crooks, and so are Hitler and Eichmann, appearing in some other chapters, but the whole discussion of whether or not literature and art elevate mankind or destroy it (the Rousseau line) once again does not connect to the rest of the book. Chapter 9 is stylistically so different from the book, that it seems as if the author "fictionalised" an academic paper and included it in the book. The "I" persona, does not seem constant, i.e. the "I" in the first chapters, an apparently very egg-headed academic, is very different from the "I" character in the final chapters. One of the main features of the book does not technically seem plausible - even if a model on a pornographic photo on the Internet held a book in her hand, the title of that book would not appear in a web search. Is the epilogue there to tell us how old Mr Mee is? I could not think of any other way to connect it to the rest of the book.

Unless, of course, I missed it all, which I suppose I did. Towards the end of the book I started loosing interest. ( )
  edwinbcn | Mar 4, 2011 |
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For Lionel Gossman
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It's said of the Xanthic sect that they believed fire to be a form of life, since it has the ability to reproduce itself.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312282354, Paperback)

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

In this inventive novel, octogenarian book collector Mr. Mee discovers the Internet with life-changing results. Told from the points of view of the guileless Mr. Mee, two eighteenth century French philosophers, and a middle-aged university professor, Andrew Crumey's book concerns the creation and mysterious disappearance of Rosier's Encyclopedia, an explosive text written more than two hundred years ago that purportedly disproves the existence of the universe. At times funny, often thought-provoking, and completely engaging, Mr. Mee is Crumey's most rewarding novel to date.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Mr. Mee, a reclusive British book collector, tries to track down a copy of a long-vanished Rosier's Encyclopedia, while Dr. Petrie, a professor of French literature, falls in love with one of his students, and 18th century copyists Ferrand and Minard arecharged with reproducing Rosier's original manuscript.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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