Quintessence by Andrew Meek ~ a review of one of the most original books I’ve read in years.
I’ve been slower than I like in my quest to find literature that bucks the trends and hacks out new paths; not so much the finding of them but the finding of time to read and then review them. I’ve also found that amid the vast array of new, often independently published
literature, there are extraordinary works of genius that shine out
like gems on a pebbled beach. But like any beach of pebbles, the
shoreline constantly shifts and the gems become covered and lost to
Quintessence is such a book. The rate at which new books appear means that the modest launch went more or less unnoticed and authors more willing to shout about their work got heard and this extra-special book has been left to be buried beneath the scores of pebbles. I am hoping that I can encourage my readers to give this one a try and discover something that defies both genre and description. But beware: if you’re looking for a beach read or something to simply entertain you for a few hours, this is not for you. This is for folks who think, who ask questions and who are open to discovery.
Ostensibly the book is the story of a man, Alexander Staalman, recovering from mental breakdown and the fear that he is losing his wife to his best friend. It is not. That said, this heart breaking narrative will draw you in, and hook you totally, but this is not the real story. Alexander has conversations with people who are dead, with Seneca and with Einstein and others; he knows full well they are not real and yet, the conversations are so enthralling that you begin to wonder quite what IS real and what is Alexander’s damaged mind filling in the blanks. Alex is a physicist and his deep love of this subject comes through with the enthusiasm with which he explains his theories and his work. This too is not the real story.
Like an onion, you peel this novel back, layer by layer until you reach the very core of it and it will rock you to YOUR core when you get there. I read it while on a camping holiday, during the short time in the evenings before we went to the pub for dinner. The fading light was my enemy, and I read until the light was gone, desperate to uncover some more. It made me feel not so much like a physicist but like an archaeologist scraping away layers of years before getting
back to the very earliest and deepest part of the story. I can tell
you that when I finally got to this shocking centre, my jaw did drop,
and yet, all the clues were there, patiently pointing the way.
It’s a very unsettling novel, in some ways, but in others, deeply
comforting and inspiring. The author has produced something that is
so far beyond the run-of-the-mill novel that I think it may take more
than run-of-the-mill readers to truly grasp the full scope and vision
of the tale. The only work I can even remotely compare it too is
Robert Pirsig’s Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and even
here, the comparisons are tenuous. Yet the scope of the vision is
there, and the character who has had a brilliant mind and a total
breakdown is there. But Meek takes it further, to a truly staggering
conclusion and there, I must step back and simply say, Go read it.
You’ll either get it or you won’t; what you get from the novel is
unique to you, and that is one of the most incredible aspects of it.
It speaks to the individual and your level of experience and depth of
understanding will govern quite how deep you are able to engage with the issues. At a most basic level, it’s a mystery, a story that draws you into it and out the other side; at a different level, it’s an
exploration of what being human and mortal actually means.