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Andrew Crumey: Sputnik Caledonia

I discovered Andrew Crumey a while ago through his awesome novel Pfitz, about which all I really remember now is that there are lots of neat fictional-worlds-within-worlds tricks. I also really liked his next, similar, novel, D’Alembert’s Principle, and his first, more conventional, novel, Music in a Foreign Language. Some part of the appeal additionally came from the fact that his books were often not published in the US (he’s Scottish), or published after great delay, so I’d have to order them from the UK, which made it more exciting, like I had stumbled on a private secret route to great fiction.

So I’ve kept buying his novels as they are published, but the last three just haven’t done the same thing for me. Maybe it’s me; Sputnik Caledonia in particular seems to have been received very well.

Crumey is still doing a lot of the same things I really like in fiction—nested stories, parallel worlds, weird unexplained correspondences between different parts of the story—but maybe I’ve read enough of his books by now that it seems more like a formula than new. There’s also a sensibility that doesn’t always mesh with mine; in Mr Mee a lot of intended humor derives from a senile old man not understanding anything of modern life, which I just rolled my eyes at, and a lot of this book reads like an adolescent fantasy—and the fact that after a while there are hints that it actually is an adolescent fantasy doesn’t really help.

There are still a bunch of ideas in here that I liked, and it was an interesting read with an affecting ending, but maybe it’s time to stop ordering his new books from the UK and go back and reread the ones that excited me originally and which I have forgotten.

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