Gold Bug Variations (英語) ペーパーバック – 1992/9/1
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A national bestseller, voted by Time as the #1 novel of 1991, selected as one of the "Best Books of 1991" by Publishers Weekly, and nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award--a magnificent story that probes the meaning of love, science, music, and art, by the brilliant author of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.
RICHARD POWERS is the author of ten novels. The Echo Maker won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction. He lives in Illinois.
FACEBOOK: RICHARD POWERS
It was especially interesting to compare it with ORFEO, published almost a quarter-century later. So similar are the themes that it is impossible not to see ORFEO as a later revisiting of the earlier novel, trimming it down, changing its proportions, and bringing the science up to date. Both feature a protagonist who is both a scientist and a musician. In ORFEO, this is Peter Els, a chemist-turned-composer who does simple gene splicing in a kitchen laboratory. In THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS, it is Stuart Ressler, who had a brief brush with fame in the 1950s, on the cutting edge of cracking the genetic code. Now, almost a recluse, he works night shifts in a computer processing warehouse in Brooklyn, incessantly playing Bach's Goldberg Variations on a scratchy gramophone. Powers would make even more of the musical element in ORFEO, giving that novel an extended lyrical feel that it not to be found here. But whether he is writing about Bach here or music of our own time in the later book, his treatment of music is utterly superb; he has made me hear new things in a work that I have been trying to play for the past twenty years!
The Goldbergs underpin the Gold Bugs in every possible way. The novel has thirty chapters and an opening and closing aria, paralleling Bach's aria and thirty variations, although only a handful of Powers' chapters are clearly tied to the musical form of the individual variation. But the concentration on form is central. Ressler is concerned with how the arrangement of the bases Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine on the double-helix strands of DNA may map out the structure of a cell, an organism, an individual, and ultimately every aspect of life in which that individual takes part. DNA is the key to our individuality; it is also what we pass on to our children, ensuring our continuation beyond death. Like ORFEO, this earlier novel is a book about death and the conquest of death through genetic inheritance; indeed, it opens with the news that Ressler has died. What, if anything, has he passed on to succeeding generations? Why did he abandon science when he was apparently on the threshold of its holy of holies?
Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Gold Bug" does more than provide a nicely-punning title for Powers' novel; it is also the first introduction of cryptography into fiction. To call the work of Stuart Ressler and his real-life contemporaries in molecular biology "code breaking" is more than a metaphor: it in fact has much in common with both mathematics and linguistics. Codes and information retrieval play a large part in the novel, from renaissance iconography to computer programming. Ressler's fascination with the Goldberg Variations is only partly sensual; he is in awe at the rigor with which Bach built a towering structure on a simple thirty-two-measure bass, interspersing a series of strict canons with virtuoso displays and genre pieces of many different kinds. The same combination of rigor and jeu d'esprit is found in the writing, which sometimes has the expository clarity of a book of non-fiction (nay, a whole library of them!), sometimes twines itself into an intricate knot of the most brilliant puns and allusions, sometimes hooks you with simple narrative that is unexpectedly direct and moving.
For yes, it does have a story, although there are times when you begin to wonder. The principal character is not actually Ressler, but the narrator, a reference librarian of around thirty named Jan O'Deigh. She gets to know Ressler when his coworker on the computer night shift, a young art historian named Franklin Todd (Frank or Frankers), asks her to research his reticent colleague. It will surprise no one that Jan and Frank fall in love (though it takes a long time to get them there). No surprise either that Stuart Ressler's annus mirabilis of science should also have included a love affair of his own. Like base-pairs on a double helix, the two love stories spiral around one another at a twenty-five year remove. Whether heart-warming or heart-breaking, they open all kinds of other questions about the connections between human beings -- and these cannot all be solved by reference to the genetic code. For this is also a book about splitting and recombining, the kind that people do, not just cells.
It is not a simple book -- did I make that clear? Even the double helix is an inadequate analogy for its narrative technique. It opens, as I say, with Franklin sending Jan news of Ressler's death. But by this time, Jan and Frank have split up and are no longer in touch. Jan quits the library and sets herself to spend a year researching Stuart Ressler's life, his former scientific field, and his ever-present music. At the same time, she is trying to work out where Frank can be, piecing together clues from the occasional missives he sends from foreign countries. So any one chapter may contain a section set in the lonely present, another a year or so earlier, when Jan used to visit the two men amid the whirring machinery in their night workshop, and another a quarter-century before that, capturing the ferment of discovery in the labs of the University of Illinois. Oh, and those arabesques of intellectual legerdemain that I mentioned earlier, pages of exposition on just about every subject under the sun, a veritable Bartlett's of assorted quotations that Jan would post on the board in her job as librarian, a grab-bag of interesting factoids that she would research in her answers on the Question Board, and the frequent "This Day in History" feature, serving to place the story not only in its time but in the context of the entire millennium. Sometimes I think Powers tried to put everything he knew into a single novel, as though afraid he would not get to write another. Well, he did write others, many of them, just as intelligent but generally better focused than this one.
Yet this is utterly extraordinary. Despite its weighty qualifications as a door-stop, it opens windows onto wider landscapes and more entrancing airs than one could ever have thought possible.
Powers weaves two (at least) stories together in a manner which left me wanting more and more. This is a big hefty book and, to my mind, only about half as long as I would have liked it to be. I was caught up in both stories and spend hours looking up the references to make sure the author "had it right." He does, on all levels. Read this book!