Travels in Elysium (英語) ペーパーバック – 2013/5/1
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A metaphysical mystery set on the Aegean island of Santorini. Trading rural England for the dream job of archaeologist's apprentice on the scarred volcanic island of Santorini, 22 year old Nicholas Pedrosa is about to blunder into an ancient mystery that will threaten his liberty, his life, even his most fundamental concepts of reality. A death that may have been murder... An island that blew apart with the force of 100,000 atomic bombs... A civilisation prised out of the ash, its exquisite frescoes bearing a haunting resemblance to Plato's lost island paradise, Atlantis... And inexplicable events entwining past and present with bewildering intensity... Can this ancient conundrum be understood before it engulfs them all? 'This extraordinary novel, part murder mystery, part metaphysical thriller, kept me guessing until the very last page. The intellectual duel between the troubled hero and his ruthless mentor is mesmerising. William Azuski's treatment of the Atlantis legend is completely original and I have rarely read a novel with such a strong sense of place. The bizarre landscapes of Santorini and the daily lives of its people, both ancient and modern, are vividly evoked. Anyone who enjoys the work of Umberto Eco, Orhan Pamuk or Carlos Ruiz Zafon should try this book.' - Geraldine Harris, author, Egyptologist, and a member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford."
The book opens very strongly--especially for one who has lived as I have lived--with a 'chance of a lifetime' opportunity to leave a 'dead end' job for something wondrously adventuresome. This is for 'openers.' Every classical Greek story should begin as a journey and this book offers a fine one. Since this journey is the story, forgive me if I let you discover it for yourselves. I can say without violating anything, that the first part of the story brings the reader right into a wonderful fantasy: what if you were able to join a major archaeological expedition? What would it feel like, smell like, be like? How would the investigators live together? Egos are involved. How would they 'play out?' In short, the author of this book is very fine at evoking 'atmosphere.' We feel that we can 'trust' him about anything to do with archaeology. Many of us will have read about Santorini or seen video travelogues and this book is so true to them. This is an 'immersion' read in travel and geography and culture. Readers who seek such experiences will not be disappointed.
This book is a murder mystery novel. This works in two senses: someone has died so how and 'whodunit?' It is also a novel about 'mysteries' or the sacred or the paranormal. I have already digested quite a few murder mystery novels this summer, and, forgive me, if I do not comment in detail about this one. Readers don't want reviewers to 'give the game away' (as I have readers' 'comments' to cite.) This, to me, is a decent mystery in both senses mentioned above but it is a more entertaining read for its 'location' and for its 'cultural history' and for its 'coming of age/loss of naiveté' story line. One finds reviews by erudite or pseudo-erudite readers (I can not tell one from the other on these pages). These reviewers may have a point but I don't think any of this detracts from this book's value as a 'summer read.' The author is an almost poetic story teller and the narrative flow moves us along with just a little 'suspension of disbelief.' One almost 'signs on' for that with these tales that emerge from myths--in this case the myth of the Elysian Fields. We are not always looking for 'a great book' or a life-changing read when we shop. I found this book to be worth its weight in entertainment and I looked no deeper. Read in this way, the book will delight.
Whether this is metaphor or "Trojan Horse," farce, mass hypnosis, wish-fulfillment, or some "echo" of the "Perfect Form" perplexes student Nico Pedrosa. From England, he's recruited hurriedly to take his place alongside the scholars under the supervision of Marcus James Huxley. On this island, names and much more suggest hidden meanings. As Nico learns more about the rivalries, factions, and uses to which he and his fellow enthusiasts are applied under Huxley's charismatic but unsettling power, the novel burrows into the possibilities that the excavation appears to reify or which appear to recur. Frescos appeal to the imaginative, and Platonic forms appear as if to revive, deepening the uncanny.
The plot must be left somewhat vague to remain surprising to you, but this suspense earns genuine engagement by the reader. It's not easy going; characters needed development and early on the style appeared too awkward. The book takes its time, and it's longer (I was asked to review an e-book) than I expected. Often, the style felt overwritten. However, in conveying Nick's own youthful bewilderment and eagerness it makes sense for awhile, to portray an student in his early 20s plucked from British academia to be plopped onto a sunny island. His predicament, and his difficulty in deciding whom he can trust, enable this novel to be a coming-of-age tale, set among a lively and vivid locale, but one with its own spirits which may be emanating from its mythical shadows. This grounding in place, stranded on an awesome otherworldly terrain, heightens drama effectively.
It reminded me of some Iris Murdoch or Charles Williams storyline, or Stanislaw Lem's "Solaris." A character wonders if this isn't all an "archetypal Greek tragedy." For the Mediterranean setting, compare "Ghosts" by John Banville in a similar motif. Or even Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Abzetis manages to hold his own with a narrator who never lets on where he is ahead of the moment; this verisimilitude lets the reader along with Nico as "sorcerer's apprentice" listen to back-stories and lore.
Plato's conundrum, optical illusion, necropolis, Isles of the Blest, Oracle of the Dead, and/or the Burnt Islands: Santorini resembles other islands towards or beyond the sunset, a feature in mythological landscapes the world over. Why this attracts seekers, such as the Friends of Orpheus, and how near-death experiences may intersect with what Huxley and his rivals and supporters investigate draws in both Azuski's reflections in this intellectual whodunit, and Nico's own quest to figure it out.
Doppelgangers, ignis fatuus, wish fulfillment, Critias and Socrates, Solon and Plato: these inspire new allegories of these caves below Santorini. One character responds with a lovely analogy to coming back from the dead: "siphoned back into my body like a captured cloud," and Azuski does strive for fresh imagery. The second half of the novel does slow, as Huxley's motives keep shifting as Nico and the reader struggle to keep up with this enigmatic antagonist. He's not necessarily evil, but he's the type of elusive antagonist that compels the outmatched protagonist Nico to pursue him.
Certainly, near the end, Azuski packs a wallop. I think to enhance this impact, earlier sections needed trimming, and sharper arcs of maturation for supporting characters. Certain people come and go as if to prop up the meandering, repeatedly delayed or attenuated plot. Still, as an intellectual project, this must have consumed him as much as Huxley regarding the grand metaphor underlying, physically and psychically, this complex story. "The final deception is not the deception that comes last, but the metaphor that makes sense of all the others." Nico tries to figure out Huxley and the increasingly bewildering or dazzling insular swirl around him and emanating behind the entrance marked #34.
I would have advised stronger delineation in terms of the supporting characters in terms of this penultimate situation and how they respond--the prose does not distinguish a range of personal testimonies although a shared education may elide or mask their respective tone and fluency. While the ending does keep its own enigma that causes one to rethink the entire novel, the value of immersion in a thoughtful if sprawling examination of Thera's mythic power is ultimately evident.