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The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil
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The Grand Complication (2001)

by Allen Kurzweil

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 32 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
The basic plot seems simple enough: a rich older gentleman hires a research librarian to help him track down an object that once resided in a compartmentalized case (in fact, the case is the eponymous Case of Curiosities from Kurzweil’s first novel). The search, its results, and its aftermath form the framework of the book. But hidden within this seemingly bland framework is a story as wonderfully complex as an Escher print: characters are not who they seem to be; motivations are called into question; and vital bits of information dance just out of our reach.

Kurzweil is a powerfully evocative writer. His scenes in the research library make you feel like you can reach out and touch the books (and oh! such books: Secret Compartments in Eighteenth-Century Furniture, The Universal Penman, Hints on Husband Catching, or A Manual for Marriageable Misses—and that’s just from the first 30 pages). Jesson’s home is described in all of its opulent splendor, with special attention given to yards of books and the shelving thereof (are you sensing a pattern?). Thankfully, even non-book-oriented places are described well.
When an author is this attentive to setting, character can sometimes be lost. But Kurzweil sidesteps this trap neatly, giving us a cast of exuberantly eccentric characters who nonetheless manage to ring true. Everyone from the petty research library bureaucrats to the narrator’s tempestuous girlfriend is limned with just enough detail to make their various eccentricities believable.

The Grand Complication is a Chinese treasure-box of a novel—just when you’re certain you know what’s going on, you find another hidden compartment with new information in it. The writing is beautiful, the plot is compelling, and the characters are a joy to spend time with. Stop listening to me natter on about it and pick it up for yourself. I think you’ll enjoy the read.
( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
A librarian gets mixed up with an elderly eccentric in his obsessive search for a stolen watch.

This is a mystery written for people who like to read about people doing research, or who enjoy books filled with literary allusions and jokes. I was mildly enjoying it, but it pretty much falls apart in the third act. If you like books about books, or if you worship libraries and librarians, you may like this book. But I imagine its appeal is fairly narrow. ( )
  sturlington | Sep 5, 2014 |
I liked this book a lot. It slowly reveals what is really happening and shares some of the mystery and intricacy of the subject: antique multi-function chronometers. I had a hard time putting it down. A fun read. ( )
  jguenther | May 17, 2013 |
On interesting concept but slow moving and not all that interesting. Really nerdy characters. ( )
  EctopicBrain | Jul 31, 2012 |
The first line is good: `The search began with a library call slip and the gracious query of an elegant man'. The elegant man was Henry James Jesson III. I often wonder how important the first line is for any author. Is it all down hill after that?
  jon1lambert | Mar 18, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Allen Kurzweilprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wit, J.J. deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
You have all heard of people whom the loss of their books has turned into invalids, or of those how in order to acquire them became criminals. These are the very areas in which any order is a balancing act of extreme precariousness.... And indeed, if there is a counterpart to the confusion of a library, it is the order of its catalogue.

- Walter Benjamin, Illuminations
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For my father
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The search began with a library call slip and the gracious query of an elegant man.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786866039, Hardcover)

Penzler Pick, August 2001: Most avid readers love everything about books--not only the words, but also the paper, the edition, the age, the texture of the binding, all of which become part of the fascination for the printed word that makes a true bibliophile. So it is no wonder that the bibliophile mystery has achieved such popularity. The Grand Complication, well-written and well-researched, is the latest in a long line of such mysteries.

Alexander Short is a reference librarian who spends his days dealing with the minutiae of his work world. At night he goes home to his French wife who is also a book person. She makes pop-up books and other three-dimensional volumes, including a "girdle" that Alexander wears in the manner of medieval monks, tied around his middle and used for his "girdling" or taking notes--something Alexander does obsessively, to the detriment of his job. Two such people seem made for each other, but their obsessions make for a rocky marriage.

So Alexander is fascinated when he meets Henry James Jesson III, an elderly man with equally obsessive interests. He would like Alexander to help him after hours. In Jesson's Manhattan mansion there is a cabinet of curiosities that tell the life of an 18th-century inventor. But one of the compartments is empty. Jesson, and soon Alexander, are agog with curiosity about what was in that compartment. Finding out is half the fun of reading this book.

The other half, if you care (and somehow I think you do), is the design of the book itself. Kurzweil is the son of an engineer, and he designed the small icon, a gear, that appears on many of the book's pages. Over the course of the novel, which runs 360 pages, that gear turns 360 degrees. And then there are the endpapers.... --Otto Penzler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:23 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"The account begins with Alexander's job in jeopardy and his marriage destined for the Discard shelf. Enter the improbably named Henry James Jesson III, a bibliophile who hires the librarian for some after-hours research. The task: to render whole an incomplete cabinet of wonders chronicling the life of a mysterious eighteenth-century inventor. As the investigation heats up, Alexander realizes there are many more secrets lurking in Jesson's cloistered world than those found inside his elegant Manhattan town house. With a notebook tethered to his jacket, Alexander plunges headlong into the search, only to discover that the void in the cabinet is rivaled by an emptiness in his heart."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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