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Pfitz (1997)

by Andrew Crumey

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1334164,833 (3.69)4
An eighteenth-century prince devotes his entire wealth and the energy of his subjects to the creation of Rreinnstadt, a fantastic city that exists only on paper and in the minds of its creators. Among Rreinnstadt's fictional inhabitants is Pfitz, a count's loyal servant who mysteriously disappears one night from a tavern. Andrew Crumey's exploration of the rich territory between reality and fantasy reveals a genuine affection for character and the terrain of the human heart.… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
This novel begins somewhat like a fairy tale, “Two centuries ago a Prince…” is pretty close to, “Once upon a time.” However, the characters here do not “live happily ever after” and the philosophical musings the book contains are more elevated than the admonitory morals of the usual fairy tale.

The Prince concerned is keen on designing fantasy cities, so much so that whole armies of people are employed to create on paper the perfect city, Rreinstadt - not just the infrastructure but also the doings of its inhabitants and visitors. (This being in the nature of a fairy tale, where the money for this endeavour comes from is not explained.) The first two chapters, which set the novel up, contain no dialogue but manage to intrigue nonetheless.

Our hero is Schenk, a Cartographer, poring over maps of Rreinstadt, who on an errand one day is smitten by a pretty young Biographer, Estrella. He is also curious about the partly erased entries on one of his maps, that of the hotel room of a visitor to Rreinstadt, one Count Zelneck. He interprets the names concerned as Pfitz and Spontini. To impress Estrella and give him a reason for continuing to visit the Biography section he invents a story for Pfitz and Count Zelneck and writes it for her. His Pfitz - and therefore ours as we can read Pfitz’s adventures in occasional chapters - is an inveterate story teller in a magic realist kind of way. Spontini turns out to be one of the “authors” of books in Rreinstadt’s library (no detail is too small for the chroniclers of the Prince’s city) whose oeuvre is created by a team of writers. Spontini is apparently destined for madness.

So we have tales within tales and characters coming to wonder if they themselves are creations in someone else’s fiction. All very self-referential and post-modern. And, of course, begging a very Science Fictional question as to whether our world is itself a fictional creation or not.

Where the treatment began to unravel for me was that events in the “real” world - that of the Prince's city planners - its jealousies and murder attempts, started to mirror the “invented” one (which being cause and which effect, a moot point) This seemed to me to labour the parallels too much.

Had I not previously read Crumey’s Mobius Dick, Sputnik Caledonia and Music, in a Foreign Language I might have been more taken with PfITZ. It is still a worthwhile novel; it just doesn’t reach the heights those books did. ( )
  jackdeighton | Mar 20, 2012 |
Andrew Crumey's Pfitz (Picador, 1997) may run to just 164 pages, but if you're not paying close enough attention as you read even one, beware. A postmodernist meta-romp, featuring stories within stories within stories, a whole series of narrators, and a very playful conception of "time," the novel is by fits (no pun intended) and starts delightful, bizarre, and frustrating (not necessarily in that order).

The best part is the very first chapter, outlining Crumey's framing device: an 18th-century European principality, vaguely Germanic, where the prince has opted to spend all his (and his people's) time, wealth, and energy in the creation of a fictional city. Maps will be drawn showing every aspect of the city from the streets to the buildings to the locations of its citizens; those citizens will be given minutely-detailed biographies, and if the are found to have written books, those books will be written, and placed within the exquistely-engineered Library, a Borgesian wonder-place paired with an even-more-wonderful Museum (see p. 15-16 for some absolutely wonderful descriptions of how these two great edifices would be designed).

A massive bureaucracy is, naturally, required for the undertaking of such a project, and our main protagonist, Schenck, is a minor functionary in the Cartography Division, responsible for the creation of some of the many maps of the fictional city (his project, when we meet him, is to chart the functioning of the fictional city's storm drains during downpours). But Schenck is distracted by an alluring redhead up in Biography, and in trying to please her, he quickly finds that with each layer of meta-fiction, the set lines of chronology, authorship and narrative begin to get very fluid indeed.

While I was frustrated at times over just what the book was trying to be, I very much enjoyed Crumey's descriptions in certain parts of the book: the opening chapter alone makes the book worth a read.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2012/01/book-review-pfitz.html ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jan 12, 2012 |
Borgesian conceit - check
Generic 18th century setting - check
Kafkaesque bureaucracy - check
Diderot dialogue - check
Shandean narrative - check
Story within a story within a story - check
Best of all possible Voltaires - check
Death of author - check
Fractals - check
Never-twice-the-same-river - check
Final scene from Faust - check
Wittgenstein - check

...in short, this is every cliché of nineties postmodernism crammed into 160 gloriously over-the-top pages. I suspect that Crumey is sending the whole thing up, but with postmodernists you can never quite tell at which point they disappear up their own orifices. At any rate, it doesn't fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously, and Crumey has a light enough touch to allow you to get a bit of fun out of it, even though the fashion for this sort of thing is long gone. ( )
1 vote thorold | Aug 27, 2011 |
Is Pfitz the consumate storyteller or a brazen liar? In the end it doesn't matter, because the stories he tells are spellbinding and leave us wanting to know everything. Part love story, part philosophical discussion on planning the perfect city, this book makes you question all the stories you've ever heard. Andrew Crumey takes his usual themes and weaves a brilliant tale. ( )
  Libraryish2 | Sep 26, 2008 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Andrew Crumeyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pemsel, KlausÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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für Mary und Peter
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Vor zwei Jahrhunderten suchte ein Prinz auf eine selbst für die Wertvorstellungen seiner Zeit ungewöhnliche Weise nach Unsterblichkeit.
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An eighteenth-century prince devotes his entire wealth and the energy of his subjects to the creation of Rreinnstadt, a fantastic city that exists only on paper and in the minds of its creators. Among Rreinnstadt's fictional inhabitants is Pfitz, a count's loyal servant who mysteriously disappears one night from a tavern. Andrew Crumey's exploration of the rich territory between reality and fantasy reveals a genuine affection for character and the terrain of the human heart.

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