Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review #23: The Memory Artists by Jeffrey Moore

This delightfully quirky novel didn't get much attention when it first came out but I loved it. Moore's work should be better known.

Set in Montreal, this novel is the highly inventive story of four friends, a mother and a doctor. Noel, who has synaesthesia (like Liszt and Rimbaud), sees sounds as colors. He also has a prodigious and acute memory. Noel’s mother has Alzheimer’s and he is seeking a cure in his basement laboratory with the help of his friends: handsome, debauched Norval; childlike, Internet addict JJ; and Samira, an Arabic-Canadian former actress who is the love interest of the three males. Studying Noel’s disease is Dr. Vorta who stands in the background of this story like a puppet-master. As the cynical Norval works his way through an alphabet of lovers (as a performance art piece), Samira becomes the ‘S’ in his project, causing a subtle conflict with Noel who is secretly madly in love with her.

Bursting with vitality, ingenious and darkly spangled with a sometimes-grim humor, the novel’s fragmentary style, which includes selections from several characters’ diaries, reflects the skipping stone mind of a synaesthete. The writing is relentlessly witty and a constant delight. Norval extracts himself from a sleeping woman’s limbs with “diamond-cutter caution”. JJ has the “teapot cheeks” of youth and “a preliminary scenario for a goatee”. The story is filled with detailed lore on chemistry, pharmacology and herbology as Noel finds hints in the ancient Arabic book, A Thousand and One Nights, in his hunt for a cure to memory loss. In a lovely, touching denouement, Noel discovers the secret buried in his “pent heart”. For those who like their fiction quirky and energetic, this novel is highly recommended.

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