Saturday, May 26, 2007

Codex: Lev Grossman

Edward Wozny is a young, successful investment banker. He is between jobs – moving from New York to London. He has a fortnight between jobs. And what does he do? Well, to begin with, he is asked to catalog the book collection of a rich English client of his New York employer (well, ex-employer, technically). Of course, he is not overly excited about it. So he decides to give it up after the first day. But then he discovers that there is more to it than just cataloguing – there is a mysterious codex that is missing and needs to be tracked out. But Edward does not even know what a codex is. Thankfully, help is at hand, in the form of research scholar Margaret Napier.

“A codex—” She stopped and half turned. She seemed nonplussed at having to define so basic a concept. “A codex is just—it’s a codex. As opposed to a scroll, or a wax tablet, or a rock with words chiseled on it. A codex is a set of printed pages, folded and bound with a spine between two covers. It’s what someone like you would call a book.”

Edward has a close friend called Zeph, a computer-game nerd. Zeph introduces Edward to computer games, specifically a game called Momus. Now Edward is not at all interested in computer games, but he gets hooked to Momus. So whenever he is not with Margaret, trying to track the missing codex, he is with his laptop, trying to crack Momus.

As you would have guessed by now, the strands of the narrative are not independent – they collide as the plot thickens. There are clues in the game that help Edward get closer to the codex, and that helps him do better at Momus in return.

If you ignore the incongruity of an investment banker being called to catalog a book collection, Codex is tremendously promising. But it leaves you feeling just a bit short in some aspects. The narrative is a bit too straight with an unvarying tone and pace; the inter-textual references are sparse and predictable; beyond Edward and Margaret, you hardly know anything about any of the others (I especially wanted to know a lot more about the client and his family); and there are not enough blind alleys and red herrings – in a search of this nature, you would expect more than a few of those. But the biggest disappointment was the ending – it seemed a bit too glib for me – after all, you don’t expect all i’s dotted and t’s crossed in a plot like this, do you? May be the author has an eye on a film? Notwithstanding this snatch of dialogue?

Did you read The Name of the Rose?

“Saw the movie. Sean Connery. Christian Slater.

Margaret refrained from comment.

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