HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

A Spy in the Ruins by Christopher Bernard
Loading...

A Spy in the Ruins (edition 2005)

by Christopher Bernard

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
421,664,912 (4)5
BlackSheepDances's review
“In the wreckage of a life contained like a seed in the wreckage of love. Since that is what it is meant to have been all about. Wasn’t it. Was it not. Where is it. The nightmare again. Flung. Out. Far.”
In Christopher Bernard’s novel, A Spy in the Ruins, a disaster has devastated a city. Or perhaps, it only affected a small region, a block, a person, or just a moment. The reader begins by being uncertain as to exactly what happened, and more importantly, why. This vague beginning is intended, and offers the first clue in grasping the scope of this complicated study of the human mind, memory, and hopes. Various characters appear, but one can’t be sure if they are indeed individuals or fragments of one consciousness.
Various literary devices are used in a surprising way: poetry and narrative intermingle throughout. Phrases may appear on a single page, and paragraphs can last for pages. Some paragraphs are absent all almost all punctuation, which creates a sense of propulsion towards the next word, speeding the text into a tense pace that feels urgent. Alternatively, other paragraphs are full of fragments, such as quoted above, driving the reader to stop. Listen. Question.
I have to admit, as I began, I wasn’t sure where the story was headed, or if it even was a story. It doesn’t follow Campbell’s Heroic Journey mythology. And I can’t really say that it is character or plot driven. I continued, because I was intrigued, and began to make marginal notes whenever a concrete location or person appeared…something to anchor the narrative to reality (or at least a fictional one). My marginal notes were minimal. It didn’t take long to figure out that such anchoring wasn’t the point, but rather the emotional and mental state of each action was what Bernard was toying with. With this in mind, it became easier to see that this was a piece of metafiction that was more about exploring the line between reality and constructions.
“It came as something of a surprise to learn that the will was written in invisible ink. So much trickier the task of deciphering a text on a blank and tumultuous page.”
Such deciphering continues as the novel continues, and without being held to the typical story arc, it is free to examine random perceptions about youthful confusion, aged wisdom, and the struggle to conjoin the two. A young man and woman both appear, but separately, and are written so differently one would imagine they were separate species rather than human. Their thoughts are rambling, sometimes incoherent, but also painfully honest. In a typical story, an author would be hard-pressed to have a character speak (or think) so honestly without alienating the reader. Because these are beings we can’t know, their anonymity allows us to view them without judgment.
“One day he opened a book. It was as though an arm rose from the pages and seized him by the throat and a voice angry learned and terribly clear said look hear listen act. Who are you. What do you know. What do you believe. What have you done. What will you do. What will your life have been worth.”
For some reason, that quote from the book reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s reaction to Joyce’s Ulysses, and how Joyce’s authorial voice challenged his way of looking at fiction forevermore. I can’t find the quote now (of course), to confirm it, but I’ve heard similar reactions to Joyce because of the unconventional style he employed. In any case, this novel’s unconventional style is mesmerizing. Throughout, the idea of books as challenges to consciousness and thought prevails. Bernard insists, through the poems and prose, that only books can reach the interior of the mind and the honesty of private contemplation.
“Chaos facing its reflection in a mirror becoming symmetry and order.”
Once the reader can grasp that the intention of the book is to question consciousness (that’s my take…I hope I’m not way off base!) rather than take a reader from point A to B, it begins to read more personally. No doubt, this is a complicated book, one that requires consideration and reflection. If I were to advise a reader, I’d suggest that they read it slowly and enjoy the play on words, the images created that only hint at reality, but that feel familiar. ( )
  BlackSheepDances | Apr 13, 2012 |
All member reviews
Showing 2 of 2
Described by Anna Sears as “A Bildungsroman hallucinogenic in its intensity,” A Spy in the Ruins by Christopher Bernard constructs a postapocalyptic anti-narrative replete with verbal richness, political aggression, and erotic tenderness. The back cover blurb by Jack Foley asserts Spy “is a book not for the faint of criticism.” A book this intense, word-drunk, and ferocious demands a proper dissection and investigation.

Spy is an idiosyncratic book about the Sixties and the moral consequences. At the same time, it encompasses much more in formal experimentalism and in vicious verbal assaults. The only other fiction where one encounters lacerating indictments “our vexed, complicated, technomiserable situation” (again, Jack Foley) are in the works of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Alexander Theroux, and Thomas Bernhard. Despite the formalistic challenges presented in the text, an almost physical immediacy haunts the text.

While the current trend in literary circles is to bow before the Cult of the Sentence, crafting polished gems befitting the pages of the New Yorker, Bernard rips apart and defiles the sentence. It takes a while to adjust to the flow of the novel. Bernard creates scenes with run-on unpunctuated sentences followed by. Brief. Breaks. In the text. This is off-putting at first, but eventually this becomes a means to instill a specific tone for the novel. With the breaks and the run-ons, Bernard’s style balances between that of a prose poem and an epigram.

The plot of the novel follows the life story of “the solitary one,” an unnamed (for the most part) male whose formative experiences include some political activism in the Sixties. Divided into ten chapters with an overarching framing device, Spy follows the Solitary One from birth to death. Besides the narrative style, the first half of the novel is notable for its insistent vagueness. There are discrete scenes and characters, but lacking in proper names and location. It creates a mythic, dream-like quality, apropos since Foley (again) compares Spy to Finnegans Wake. (In his blurb, Foley likens Spy to both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, a comparison the novel almost achieves.)

The only time the novel really fails to deliver is in passages obviously set in the Sixties but seemingly clouded in a willful vagueness. The Kennedy assassination is described as a leader killed in a Southern city. It is only when the accretion of historical facts lean against the mythic edifice of the novel that things begin to strain.

The Solitary One endures a brutal upbringing, only leavened by his nascent sexual experiences with a female schoolmate. But his upbringing drain these erotic scenes of their joy and later corrode and curdle in his later relationships. The last sections involve him enduring a one-way conversation with his former lover. The scene possesses a vicious mood with the Solitary One desperately wanting to answer, but prevented by his deteriorating health.

Prior to that, Spy has chapters increasing in specificity. A screenplay has a Him and Her where we see a relationship fracture amidst the earnest political discussions one witnesses in bright-eyed college students. The ninth chapter begins as an espionage novel and ends as a Therouvian indictment of modern culture’s shallowness and rot. Characters get specific names, but we are unsure whether this is a realistic depiction or whether the hospitalized Solitary One is making this up in his head, retconning the past to make his mistakes more palatable. The chapter is less Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than Malone Dies.

Bernard marries the formal experimentalism of James Joyce with the unflinching emotional brutality of Samuel Beckett. Written in 2005, A Spy in the Ruins has a bold experimentalism welded to a strident and intelligent point of view. It stands toe-to-toe with Infinite Jest, Angels in America, and The Savage Detectives as an epic that has a lot to say and does so in a new invigorating way.

http://driftlessareareview.com/2012/10/02/critical-appraisals-a-spy-in-the-ruins... ( )
1 vote kswolff | Oct 2, 2012 |
“In the wreckage of a life contained like a seed in the wreckage of love. Since that is what it is meant to have been all about. Wasn’t it. Was it not. Where is it. The nightmare again. Flung. Out. Far.”
In Christopher Bernard’s novel, A Spy in the Ruins, a disaster has devastated a city. Or perhaps, it only affected a small region, a block, a person, or just a moment. The reader begins by being uncertain as to exactly what happened, and more importantly, why. This vague beginning is intended, and offers the first clue in grasping the scope of this complicated study of the human mind, memory, and hopes. Various characters appear, but one can’t be sure if they are indeed individuals or fragments of one consciousness.
Various literary devices are used in a surprising way: poetry and narrative intermingle throughout. Phrases may appear on a single page, and paragraphs can last for pages. Some paragraphs are absent all almost all punctuation, which creates a sense of propulsion towards the next word, speeding the text into a tense pace that feels urgent. Alternatively, other paragraphs are full of fragments, such as quoted above, driving the reader to stop. Listen. Question.
I have to admit, as I began, I wasn’t sure where the story was headed, or if it even was a story. It doesn’t follow Campbell’s Heroic Journey mythology. And I can’t really say that it is character or plot driven. I continued, because I was intrigued, and began to make marginal notes whenever a concrete location or person appeared…something to anchor the narrative to reality (or at least a fictional one). My marginal notes were minimal. It didn’t take long to figure out that such anchoring wasn’t the point, but rather the emotional and mental state of each action was what Bernard was toying with. With this in mind, it became easier to see that this was a piece of metafiction that was more about exploring the line between reality and constructions.
“It came as something of a surprise to learn that the will was written in invisible ink. So much trickier the task of deciphering a text on a blank and tumultuous page.”
Such deciphering continues as the novel continues, and without being held to the typical story arc, it is free to examine random perceptions about youthful confusion, aged wisdom, and the struggle to conjoin the two. A young man and woman both appear, but separately, and are written so differently one would imagine they were separate species rather than human. Their thoughts are rambling, sometimes incoherent, but also painfully honest. In a typical story, an author would be hard-pressed to have a character speak (or think) so honestly without alienating the reader. Because these are beings we can’t know, their anonymity allows us to view them without judgment.
“One day he opened a book. It was as though an arm rose from the pages and seized him by the throat and a voice angry learned and terribly clear said look hear listen act. Who are you. What do you know. What do you believe. What have you done. What will you do. What will your life have been worth.”
For some reason, that quote from the book reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s reaction to Joyce’s Ulysses, and how Joyce’s authorial voice challenged his way of looking at fiction forevermore. I can’t find the quote now (of course), to confirm it, but I’ve heard similar reactions to Joyce because of the unconventional style he employed. In any case, this novel’s unconventional style is mesmerizing. Throughout, the idea of books as challenges to consciousness and thought prevails. Bernard insists, through the poems and prose, that only books can reach the interior of the mind and the honesty of private contemplation.
“Chaos facing its reflection in a mirror becoming symmetry and order.”
Once the reader can grasp that the intention of the book is to question consciousness (that’s my take…I hope I’m not way off base!) rather than take a reader from point A to B, it begins to read more personally. No doubt, this is a complicated book, one that requires consideration and reflection. If I were to advise a reader, I’d suggest that they read it slowly and enjoy the play on words, the images created that only hint at reality, but that feel familiar. ( )
  BlackSheepDances | Apr 13, 2012 |
Showing 2 of 2

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
3 wanted

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4)
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4 2
4.5
5

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 91,503,272 books! | Top bar: Always visible