Books 6/15/04

Over the last days I finished Codex by Lev Grossman, the first two Harry Potter books, and Pal Joey by John O’Hara. I want to start Life of Pi by Yann Martel, but need to write about Codex so I can fully concentrate on Pi. I’d delayed writing about it as I was trying to sort my thoughts out. There will be spoilers in here, so beware if you want to read the book later.

Codex is the story of Edward, a young, highpowered Wall Street mover and shaker. He’s getting transferred to England, and has two weeks off for the first time in years. With nothing to do, he takes up the offer of some clients of the firm to organize their library, and what starts out as just something to pass time becomes obsessive as a search begins for an old manuscript which may or may not exist. As he does this, he also gets sucked into a video game that starts to resemble his search.

The back of the book describes it as a cerebral thriller, but there was less suspense than a feeling of vague confusion. That sounds bad- let me explain. The video game, MOMUS, that our hero plays, has him in a realistic if slightly surreal looking world, with something to accomplish but no idea what it is or how to do it. He gets sucked in further and further as he tries to figure out what he’s doing there. In real life, his search for the codex is the same. He knows he’s looking for it, but really has no idea why or how to go about it, and the world of academia that he finds himself in is also oddly surreal. As we read, its the same feeling. There’s not a feeling of danger so much as putting together oddly shaped pieces of a puzzle.

One of the main themes of the book is the purpose of fiction. Early on Margaret explains that the manuscript can’t exist because no one wrote escapist fiction back then, and when they started to do so it confused people- they couldn’t tell reality from the visions in the books. Later, the reason for the writing of the fiction of the codex is revealed, and it’s all for the purpose of escape from a reality too depressing to face. For Edward, the search and the video game become an escape from a life where he’s lost his vision. The story contained in the codex (as told to him by Margaret), and the narrative of the video game all start mixing and melding with his own reality until he can’t tell what is real. And for good reason, as his own reality starts to reflect the themes of the codex.

The narrative in the codex is circular, the knight of the story begins searching for the Holy Grail and then for the Rose Chapel, and along his way sees many of the same people mulitple times, and repeats a number of experiences. Edward also circles through his experiences, with events in the video game repeating events in real life. He begins his story looking for his Holy Grail- more fame and fortune. He gets sidetracked by the Rose Chapel- the codex, and the vague promise of peace of mind it seems to hold. And at the end, one could argue he’s circled back around to the beginning.

Those are my thoughts for now- now I can move on to Life of Pi. I don’t have much to comment on the Harry Potter front- this read through was a reread, and again they’re very enjoyable. I’m impressed by the level of subtle foreshadowing that occurs- now that I’ve read all the books published so far, I can see how she’s set up clues and tie ins for everything thats happened so far. It’s impressive.

Pal Joey was interesting, I picked it up because Bob Fosse was in the stage version, and it was $2. It’s set in Chicago and expresses a clear sense of place, which tied in nicely to what I’d read in The Devil in the White City. The book contained both the original novella and the libretto of the musical, and it was interesting to see how they differed. The novella is a series of letters, and the libretto obviously has dialogue- but there were thematic and narrative differences as well, most likely done to streamline the story. The story- especially the ending of the musical, was quite reminiscent of Sweet Charity, and it’s interesting that Bob Fosse was involved in both.

Current Count: 55
Just Finished: Pal Joey by John O’Hara
Next Up: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

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