A review of Jorge Volpi's In Search of Klingsor
The narrative is based on Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty, which Volpi uses to pull the tension tight. In bleak lodgings Bacon encounters the slinky Irene, who arouses not only his passion but our suspicion that she is acting under alien orders. In interviews with crestfallen German scientists (this is the most sedentary of thrillers) we also learn that physics is just as fallible as fiction, never provable, only probable. But happily physicists work in rage or envy, putting one another's egos as well as theories under the microscope, so there is no shortage of psychological melodrama in these refreshing pages.
Volpi explores the deeper hinterland of Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen, sharing his concern over the "moral irreconcilables" of wartime. If the characters are somewhat robotic, they are fuelled by high-octane content. Rarely in popular fiction are you paid the compliment of possessing a mind; here the brain-cells tingle for the first time since giving up science at school.
Anyone hoping to feast on language will go hungry, yet Volpi's imagery has its charms. To choose a day for a wedding will be "as agonising as determining the quadrature of a circle", while an orgasm is "just the logical, necessary consequence of the calculations he had mapped out earlier". Meanwhile try applying a lesser-known Einstein formula (a = x + y + z) to the book. If a is success, x is work and y is luck. So what is z? asks a journalist. Keeping your mouth shut, replies Einstein. As does this highly successful story to the very last secret.
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