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The Sleeping King and the Madman at the Gates

January 26th, 2009

Jedediah Berry’s The Manual of Detection isn’t actually out yet officially, but I have had the great good fortune to read it in advance.

It’s one of those rare books that does everything I want a book to do. Normally I need to be reading at least three different things at once to satisfy my reading moods: something stylistically complex and challenging whose prose I can pore over like poetry in the morning over a cup of tea, something factual and obscure about the nature of belief or the evolution of consciousness that I can resort to in the middle of the day when I ought to be working and write off as “research”, and something with an engrossing story and lovable characters I can pick up and get lost in before falling alseep. The Manual of Detection provides all those things. The jacket copy seems satisfied referring to it as a surrealistic detective story, but to me it almost seems to be carrying secondary-world fantasy around, hovering just above its shoulders like an invisible umbrella. It is meticulously structured, ornate and beautiful and inexhaustibly inventive—a page-turner, mindfuck, and cozy all at the same time.

Miss Palsgrave looked down at him. In the dark he could see only the dull gleam of her eyes. “The sleeping king and the madman at the gates,” she said. “On the one side a kind of order, on the other a kind of disorder. We need them both. That’s how it’s always been.”

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