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some thoughts reading Allen Kurzweils's "Grand Complication"

October 25 2006 at 12:52 PM
lutz  (Login ammererlutz)
AP Discussion Group

Good evening all.

This novel was once mentioned on the belles lettres forum without further comment but never here as far as I know.

So,for all interested I shall offer a short sum-up and some thoughts about this novel about Breguet's most famous watch nr.160 called "Marie Antoinette"

The story is quite simple,an entertaining detective-novel about the mystery of the theft of the watch in 1983 in Jerusalem and speculations about its present ownership.I am not sure if any person not interested in watches will like this novel published 2003,but people reading this forum are "a bit different" to "normal" people so will most propably read it with interest.

The figures are drawn excellently,they change and flicker in the course of the novel,something E.M.Forster would call "round characters".

The story itself does not give too much thrill,a very peculiar rich person(with rather vulgar scrap-metal wealth background) calling himself "Henry James Jesson III",a passionate collector(owning one of the few historic "Sympathiques"!)owns a wooden box containing objects registering the life of an inventor who lived 200 years ago.Only one object is missing....Yes You might guess correctly,its the Marie Antoinette of Breguet.As many passionate collectors Jesson wants to obtain the stolen watch at all costs.He uses a quite neurotic librarian,Alexander Short,as tool and they enter a journey full of bizarre gadgets,automats,odd books about "secret compartments in 18th century furniture",a journey through a strange world.It is the world of collectors....

The novel consists of 60 chapters filling exactly 360 pages.Each chapter closing with the cog wheel of a watch's escapement and the last chapter starts with the same scene as the first Jesson asking Short,"Might I steal a moment of Your time?"

Jesson himself possesses a "Sympathique" and hunts the Marie Antoinette but he refuses to wear a watch.

What makes the novel interesting are the characters.And this is why it also makes me wonder about people like "us"....

Jesson and Short are neurotics,Short is so obviously and ineffectively treated by a psychiatrist,obsessive and emotionally frigid,Jesson has enough money to disguise his sick personality and frigidity.

This Jesson lives in New York,but he leads the life of a 19th century aristocrat.He built his house as little kingdom called "Festinalente",no TV,no computer,no mobile,not even a telephone,no apparent communication with the real world,the only person around is his butler.When discussion goes which rich guy might have ordered the theft of the Marie Antoinette and the words "Bill Gates perhaps" fall,he only says,"another name I don't know".

Short on the other hand is obsessed with taking notes in a little bookled girdled to his trousers.Even when his French wife ineffectively tries to entice some erotic reaction at her husband the only thing he does is taking notes.As Jesson lives in his cage of obsessive collecting automats and furniture so Short lives in his more mundane cage of the library with a despotic boss and library-stocks truely inspired by Franz Kafka.

Their world is sterile.Jesson's luxury and Short's impotence have the same roots.

The lack of love is the shocking truth behind the collecting-tic.

Might it be a mirror we are looking into here?

We,hunting for ever more complicated watches for our collections,ever higher auctioned rare Pateks,do we also suffer the same disease as Jesson?
I am afraid my answer might be yes.
At least when the fun stops and fanatism and addiction starts,something is wrong in ones's emotional sphere.
Do we really need those toys ,beautiful as they might be,that are discussed here,when we feel real love,see real suffering?

Short is healed after all.He finds his way back to his wife,finds his emotions towards her again as he leaves Jesson,who himself finally shows a glimpse of self-cognition in a shattering experiance.He who had betrayed Short who had betrayed his wife,they all get a chance of a new life in sanity,whether or not they will take chance of this opportunity.

kind regards,

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Watch Carefully
(Login WatchCarefully)

Thank you for the review...

October 25 2006, 2:36 PM 

Have you read Mr. Kurzweil's previous book "A Case of Curiosities"?
I preferred the earlier work, but found them both to be compelling. IIRC, references to the earlier book are made in the later.
Best regards,
Brad Jacobs

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(no login)

Further comments

October 26 2006, 1:01 AM 

I recently read the book and enjoyed every minute. It starts slowly and has a peculiarly stilted style but becomes increasingly intriguing before culminating in a final grand denouement. As Lutz points out, the book works on a number of levels in terms of the way the story is put together and the way the whole novel is constructed. The book is erudite, informative and really funny in places. While I can't comment on the psychology of the book, I can say that I found it an absolute delight.

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(Login dartanian)
PP Discussion Group

Wow, Lutz, thanks so much

October 31 2006, 4:04 PM 

What an unusual and engaging post. I often muse on the 'illness' of collecting. I amaze myself when I order another watch. I just did it two days ago, swearing I was finished! Sound familliar? (But it was a 1993 IWC 5441, how could I resist???) Thanks again for adding more culture to our lives, and provocative insights.

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