Summary and book reviews of The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil

The Grand Complication

By Allen Kurzweil

The Grand Complication
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2001,
    360 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2002,
    512 pages.

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Book Summary

Narrated by Alexander Short, a stylish young reference librarian of arcane interests, The Grand Complication propels the reader through a card catalog of desperation and delight, of intrigue and theft. It's a novel of suspense that comes full circle, with a clock-maker's precision and a storyteller's surprise, on page 360.

The account begins with Alexander's job in jeopardy and his marriage destined for the Discard shelf. Enter the improbably named Henry James Jesson III, a bibliophile who hires the librarian for some after-hours research. The task: to render whole an incomplete cabinet of wonders chronicling the life of a mysterious eighteenth-century inventor. As the investigation heats up, Alexander realizes there are many more secrets lurking in Jesson's cloistered world than those found inside his elegant Manhattan town house. With a notebook tethered to his jacket, Alexander plunges headlong into the search, only to discover that the void in the cabinet is rivaled by an emptiness in his heart.

A delicious compendium of quirky colleagues, erotic pop-ups, deviant passions, and miraculous examples of theft, the book is a grand and complicated "timepiece," told with a devilish sense of fun.

Chapter 1

THE SEARCH BEGAN with a library call slip and the gracious query of an elegant man.

"I beg your pardon," said the man, bowing ever so slightly. "Might I steal a moment of your time?"

He deposited his slip on the reference desk and turned it so that the lettering would face me. And if this unusual courtesy wasn't enough to attract attention, there was also the matter of his handwriting – a gorgeous old-fashioned script executed with confident ascenders and tapering exit strokes – as well as the title of the book he requested. Secret Compartments in Eighteenth-Century Furniture played right to my fascination with objects of enclosure.

"Let's see what we can do for you, Mr. – " I double-checked the bottom of the slip before uttering his improbably literary name. "Henry James Jesson III."

After I had directed him to the tube clerk, curiosity got the best of me, so I rang the stack supervisor and asked that she expedite retrieval. In a further ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Which of the characters was your favorite? Why?

  2. Discuss any themes in the novel that were particularly resonant for you. Were there any motifs, images, or symbols through which these themes manifested themselves?

  3. Which — if any — of the central characters experienced an epiphany? Select a passage in the novel that you believe is pivotal to a character's development.

  4. Is the setting of the novel integral to its narrative? Would it have been just as effective if the novel's backdrop had been different? Are you drawn to novels set in a particular time or place? Elaborate.

  5. Did you become attached to characters in the novel? Did they possess traits reminiscent of people you've encountered in your own life?

...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Newsday

As welcoming and accessible as an Advent calendar, offering its prizes to anyone who cares to pry open the tabs.

Bookpage

A charming energy floods the novel, and Kurzweil neatly pulls off the author's trick of entertaining even as he educates.

Library Journal

Recommended for all literature collections.

Publishers Weekly

Kurzweil delivers a remarkable novel -- a flawless blend of adventure, intellect, suspense, humor and antiquity.

Booklist

The is a delightfully intricate jewel box of a novel, and it works on multiple levels.

Author Blurb Doris Lessing
I admire this ingenious, erudite book, which will enthrall all lovers of books and of libraries. And how nice to read something so wonderfully irreverent about that Sacred Cow, sex.

Reader Reviews
martin
I have not read this book yet, but have read Case of Curiosities.(Kurzweils' other book) I HGIHLY reccomend it and am planning to buy '..Complications" as soon as i have paid my hefty coucil tax bill.

Anonymous

What a great book! My shelves are full but this is definitely a keeper - to read again and again. Kurzweil blends mystery, adventure and humour into a wonderfully complicated tale of antiquity, librarians and sex.

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