Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Amnesiac - Sam Taylor

The Amnesiac
Sam Taylor
Penguin Books


“What changes is not the color of the canal, but the perspective of the person who looks at it.” For the past five years, James Purdew has lived with his girlfriend, Ingrid, in her apartment in Amsterdam in a contended sort of suspension. The turning point for James comes when he breaks his ankle while running up the stairs to answer the phone. Ingrid confounds him by asking who he thought was on the other end of the line. Sitting around the apartment, unable to work construction while in a cast, gave James a lot of time to think. Too much time, perhaps. When Ingrid broaches the subject of the future, James is filled with panic. Ingrid moves out and wishes him well.

James is left, for the first time in years, truly alone. Under the bed are boxes full of his personal diaries. Most are in regular cardboard boxes. They speak of a younger self he barely recognizes. One set, covering three years at the university in the city of H, are in a locked safe. James purchased the small safe because it is impossible to open without the key. And he doesn’t know where the key is. It slowly dawns on him that he has no memory of these three years.

At loose ends, James leaves Amsterdam and returns to H. Looking for housing, he serendipitously discovers and unusual arrangement. A homeowner who wishes to remain anonymous is looking for someone to live in an old home and do the renovations as rent. Being a builder and electrician, James is perfectly suited for the task. There, he discovers a nineteenth-century manuscript that provides insight into his past and present, and possibly more.

The writing here is masterful, lyrical; it takes on almost a dreamlike quality, even during the most mundane events. When James spends six weeks of enforced idleness in a stifling apartment during a heat wave, the temperature seems to rise. He has a recurring dream about wandering through a labyrinth, trying to follow a string to its conclusion. Early on, he decides that the labyrinth is his mind, the string the events that connect present and past. Both the journey and the novel are unlike anything you have read before this. Composed of dream, reality, cynicism, optimism, tragic, comic, and more than anything, a searching for those things that form the fundamentals of what we are.

Rating: 9
June 2008
ISBN# 978-0-14-311340-9 (trade paperback)


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