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The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci
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The Origin of Species (2008)

by Nino Ricci

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Loved the setting of Montreal, my home town. Story revolving around Darwin and natural selection was also great because of my anthropology background. Although Alex can be a bit whiny, his search for meaning is engaging, with excellent details about the Galapagos Islands and French-language politics. ( )
  sushitori | Aug 1, 2013 |
Set in 1980s Montreal, The Origin of Species revolves around Alex, a Ph'D student at Concordia. Alex suffers from a general malaise and sense of failure (actual or potential) in his chosen profession, in his relationships and in himself. Behind it all lies a life-changing experience in the Galapagos which still haunts Alex years later. Then Esther enters his life.

I am a fan of Ricci's work. The Origin of Species is well written and, at times, absorbing and emotionally rewarding. Alex, however, I found to be a frustrating protagonist. At times, his despondency and self-pity inspired more a desire to shake him rather than sympathy. When I got to the section on the Galaagos Islands, I actually wanted to know more about Desmond than how these events impacted on and explained the future Alex.

Ricci captured 1980s Montreal excellently. I found it very entertaining to wander through a place from our recent history that was at once familiar and strange. And the fantasy interview with Peter Gzowski was nostalgic and hilarious.

I would still recommend the book. Have patience with Alex, it will pay off, and thank God (or Ricci) for Esther! ( )
  musecure | Dec 7, 2012 |
"Nino Ricci is a great writer, and I look forward to reading more of his novels. However I had trouble getting into The Origin of Species. It could have been because I wasn't quite sure where it was going, or it didn't get there fast enough for me.

The novel began with Alex, a character who I immediately wanted to know more about. But when I was introduced to Esther, I began to lose interest. I wanted to hear more about Alex's past, and his encounter with Ingrid. My appetite was whet with their initial encounters and I wanted to continue down that story line. So when we came back to the present (with Esther) my interest began to wane again.

I want to give this book another shot, so I think I will put it aside for when I am in a more reflective mood. Perhaps I will lend it to my sister first who is studying Psychology.

http://www.monniblog.com/2009/04/unfinished-books/" ( )
  monnibo | Nov 9, 2012 |
Alex Fratarcangeli is a Ph-D student in Montreal during the 1980s. (Coincidentally so was Nino Ricci.) His dissertation is on the link between creation (or the origin of species) and human creativity. His girlfriend has left him and he is in a funk, both creative and personal. Then one day in his apartment building he meets Esther, also a student. Esther has MS but she is still walking with the help of a cane. She asks Alex for a cigarette and then they go for a coffee together. Esther listens to Alex's description of his thesis and she is so enthusiastic Alex starts to believe he can do it. According to this article from the Edmonton Journal there was a real life Esther. I had suspected that because the novel's dedication is "In memory of Esther". Esther has a huge impact on Alex although she becomes sicker and sicker throughout the novel. In fact, I think Esther saved Alex.

It was strange to read a novel set in what I consider to be the recent past (1986/87) and have it so different from present reality. Everyone smoked, there was no internet and in fact personal computers were so new they were mentioned by make, no-one had cell phones and Pierre Trudeau was still alive. Of course, the political realities haven't changed much. Maybe separatism is weakened but there's still the divide between anglophone and francophone and between Quebec and Ottawa. I guess some things never change.

Ricci is a great writer and I'm glad to have read something by him. I have to confess, though, that until I got to the section set in Galapagos I was a little bored by Alex. But the Galapagos section was really well done and it explained a lot about Alex that I had found irritating. In the end I liked Alex quite a bit but I think that is because he matured through the book. ( )
  gypsysmom | Mar 18, 2012 |
The fraught story of Alex, whose problem with emotional commitment leaves him dangling just outside any number of relationships. Set (mostly) in Montreal in the 1980s but touches on a variety of political and cultural issues. You will not soon forget the harrowing episode of Alex's journey through the Galapagos Islands. ( )
  icolford | Aug 13, 2011 |
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...as with the individual, so with the species, the hour of life has run its course, and is spent. - Charles Darwin The Voyage of the Beagle

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In memory of Esther
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The girl standing in the foyer when Alex went down to get his mail, trembling slightly on her cane, was Esther.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385663609, Hardcover)

The crater held a circle of stars above them as if they were closed up in a snow globe, a private cosmos. He thought of Darwin sleeping out on the pampas during his Beagle trip, a middle-class white kid traveling the world, the first of the backpackers. It was only afterwards, really, that he had made any sense of what he had seen. Alex wondered what, in the fullness of time, he himself would make sense of, what small, crucial detail might be lodging itself in his brain that would shake his life to its foundations. (p 286)


Montreal during the turbulent mid-1980’s: Chernobyl has set geiger counters thrumming across the globe, HIV/AIDS is cutting a deadly swath through the gay population worldwide, and locally, tempers are flaring over the language laws of Bill 101. Hiding out in a seedy apartment near the Concordia campus is Alex Fratarcangeli (“Don’t worry… I can’t even pronounce it myself”), a somewhat oafish 30-something grad student. Though tender and generous at heart, Alex leads a life devoid of healthy relationships, ashamed in particular of the damage he has done to the women with whom he has been romantically entangled. Plagued by the sensation that his entire life is a fraud, Alex attends daily sessions with a lackluster psychoanalyst in an attempt to shake off the demon of depression (and the cigarette-tinged voice of Peter Gzowski in his ear). Scarred by a distant father and a dangerous relationship with his ex Liz, and consumed by a floundering dissertation linking Darwin’s theory of evolution with the history of human narrative, Alex has come to view love and other human emotions as “evolutionary surplus, haphazard neural responses that nature had latched onto for its own insidious purposes.”

Then a convergence of brave souls enter Alex’s life, forcing him to recognize the possibility of meaningful connections. There is his neighbour Esther, whose multiple sclerosis is progressing rapidly, yet who gamely attacks every day she has left. There is the elegant Félix, an older gay man whose own health status is in question yet who remains resolutely generous,and María, returning to fight for human rights in her native El Salvador, knowing she will face certain peril. Along the way Alex meets others whose struggles with their own demons are not so successful, and sometimes tragic. When he receives a letter from Ingrid, the beautiful woman he knew years ago in Sweden, notifying him of the existence of his five year old son. Alex is gripped by a paralytic terror.

Whenever Alex’s thoughts grow darkest, he is compelled to recall Desmond, the British professor with dubious credentials whom he met years ago in the Galapagos. Treacherous and despicable, wearing his ignominy like his rumpled jacket, Desmond nonetheless caught Alex in his thrall and led him to some life-altering truths during their weeks exploring Darwin’s islands together. It is only now that Alex can begin to comprehend these unlikely life lessons, and see a glimmer of hope shining through what he had thought was meaninglessness.

Funny, poignant and visceral, Nino Ricci’s most recent masterpiece The Origin of Species will remind you of the wonder of life, the beauty of existence and the great gift that is our connection to the universe and all that is.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:22 -0400)

Alex searches for control over his life as he hits a roadblock with his dissertation on Charles Darwin, learns that he has a son, and goes through a series of unfulfilling relationships.

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