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The Grand Complication: A Novel    by Allen Kurzweil order for
Grand Complication
by Allen Kurzweil
Order:  USA  Can
Theia, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The first sentence hooked me on The Grand Complication ... 'The search began with a library call slip and the gracious query of an elegant man.' Alexander Short thus meets Henry James Jesson III who is to consume so much of his time. Short works in the reference section of a large library and so has access to a great deal of material never seen by the general public. Jesson needs this access and proceeds to win Short over to a case with which Jesson is concerned. It revolves around an item missing from a recessed niche in a small eighteenth century cabinet that Jesson owns. Questions of what the item is and where it could be send Short on a far-reaching hunt (reading about the progress of the search made me very much aware of just how much we all rely on our libraries and take for granted that the information we need is just a dial tone away).

Short has a glorified notebook that he carries with him all the time (buttoned to his coat) and calls his 'scribble-scribble'. He is a self-described graphomaniac, using his own version of shorthand, and his notes figure prominently in the book. Alexander has a compulsive personality, which makes him the right tool for Jesson's quest for the missing object. Even when Short discovers that Jesson is not being completely honest, he is won over by Jesson's quoting Valery, 'Ignorance is a much-neglected treasure.' Alexander's marriage to French artist Nic was already in peril. Now she not only resents the time he spends with the old man, but she also distrusts Jesson. Nic wants Alexander to see a 'shrimp' to help him get his priorities in order.

Kurzwell uses many literary references that are over my head and his knowledge of history and of library systems is awesome. However, reading the conversations between the two scholars was much like eavesdropping on an advanced college lecture. I found this tedious at times. I love words and enjoy learning new ones that I know will never end up in my daily discourse, but the author's use of a plethora of obscure ones tended to make me lose the thread of the story. However, after bogging down in such highbrow verbiage, the novel finally picks up as Alexander and Nic turn the tables on Jesson. It then races to a very satisfactory and unexpected conclusion.

There is a splendid scene in the library during the staff's Christmas party, which gives us a chance to see what librarians might do when they let their hair down, and there are other memorable moments and quotations throughout the story. For example 'Festinalente', the name of Jesson's home means, 'Make haste slowly'. It is, as he says 'A private challenge to the fast-paced mediocrity society teaches us to worship.' Overall I recommend The Grand Complication to bibliophiles who enjoy a vocabulary challenge and an intriguing puzzle.

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