Sunday, December 30, 2018

57. The Gradual by Christopher Priest

This was a dreamlike, slightly disconnected yet ultimately intriguing and pleasurable read to end the year.  I actually had a tough time transitioning out of God Is an Englishman, it was such an absorbing epic and I didn't have any sense of what kind of book I was ready to read next.  So I think it took me a while to give The Gradual my full attention.  My partner found it for a buck at the Oakland Library bookstore (more on that haul).  The beginning of the book is slow and it takes a while to tell you where it is going (and even then you don't know the full journey to the end).  Things got interesting after the first third.  Priest constructs a mystery about the setting itself and once it gets going it really draws you in.

The protagonist is a musician in a desolate industrial city who had grown up under a military dictatorship in constant, but distant war.  He is invited to do a musical tour of the nearby vast archipelago of islands, neutral in the war and inspirational for his own compositions.  The islands are beautiful, but complex and alien. At every landing, they have to give these rods to an agent, who interrogates them, but otherwise life is much freer than home.  However, when he returns, he finds he has lost almost two years of his life.  His wife left him, his apartment was in arrears.  He tries to figure out what to do with his life all the while thinking about the mystery of the islands.

Priest weaves several other interesting narratives, including his brother drafted to the war and now fate unknown, the development of his own music and how it is received.  By the end, the disconnected style is overcome by the complex elegance of the plot and the rich sense of place.

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