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The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk    by David Ambrose order for
Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk
by David Ambrose
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk begins with a 500 BC quote from Chuang Tzu's dream, 'I dreamed I was a butterfly, and didn't know when I awoke if I was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly who now dreamed he was a man', a quote that is also a succinct summary of the story. The novel opens on Dr. Susan Flemyng, who is trying to reassure a patient with a rare viral infection. It has affected Brian's memory, so that he is 'trapped in eternal present'. Susan has in mind the seeds of a research project that might help.

The story then segues into a sequence reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, starring Charlie Monk, artist and superspy, on a covert op to a luxury yacht. We meet Dr. Flemyng again, with a small son and a husband who has just died, as she is pulled into a global conspiracy and blackmailed into assisting it. When Charlie resists his controllers, he is quickly captured, in a surrealistic series of events reminiscent of The Prisoner and The Matrix, and involving virtual reality, a 'Demon Machine' and animal experimentation. Susan enlists Charlie's aid, answering Chuang Tzu's questions with 'all reality is virtual reality. It's the only kind of reality there is.'

There's a betrayal, thrilling action sequences and a happy resolution. Or is it? The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk presents the reader with a very clever construct of dreams within dreams, and leaves it up to us to decide what is reality; totally fascinating.

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