Friday, 10 April 2009

Book Review: Daemonomania by John Crowley

Daemonomania is a novel that needs to be read more then once. Its complexities and mysteries would give a literary critic plenty of scope for a PHD thesis. So to write a short review of the third book in John Crowley's Aegypt Cycle after reading the novel for the first time (and also taking into account that Daemonomania is part of a long interlaced story encompassing three other novels equally as complex) has its difficulties.

Daemonomania I found was slightly more fragmented then the previous novels. (Aegypt or The Solitudes and Love & Sleep) Not unstructured or jumbled just so many strands to take into account. Pierce Moffett's character takes on a darker hue, having the dominant role in a sadomasochistic relationship with girlfriend Rose and descending into depression when she turns to a cultish Christian organisation, The Powerhouse. Rosie (not to be confused with Rose) struggles with her daughter Sam's epilepsy, that's triggered by the scrying globe once belonging to the occultist John Dee, an historical character but also a character in the novels. Adding to her problems Rosie's ex-husband has joined The Powerhouse and demands custody of Sam... There is far more going on of course both at the domestic level and at the metaphysical-the previous age of the world transforming into the new: the overall theme of the Aegypt quartet.

It would be a bit of a stretch calling the books fantasy (certainly not genre fantasy) but Daemonomania does contain much that's fantastic and it's arching schema of Neo-Platonist and Gnostic cosmology firmly places it in the category of fabulation. The fantasy elements are primarily contained in the sequences set in the 16th Century revolving around the lives of John Dee and Giordano Bruno; in Daemonomania these sections have escaped from the pages of dead writer Fellowes Kraft's historical novels-the books within a book of Aegypt and Love & Sleep-and been intergrated into the main narrative. There's plenty of small-scale fantasy subtle interwoven into the lives of the 20th Century characters: Sam, Rosie's four year old daughter, has contact with the 16th Century via Dee's scrying ball, when her own toy ball bounces into John Dee's world, startling the old mage. There's also the strange sub-narrative of a battle running throughout history, between 'werewolves,' (on the side of good) and 'witches' at the gates of the land of the dead. One modern day character, Bobby, the feral mountain girl, (in Daemonomania, she's grown up) taken in by the 11 year old Pierce and his cousins in 'Love & Sleep,' is related to the 'werewolves,' although it seems she has more of the 'witch' inside. It's also interesting that most of the 20th Century protagonists are unaware of anything supernatural or fantastic, except for odd coincidences. (coincidences play a major role throughout the sequence of novels) Pierce never has his magical theories of history confirmed and only half believes them anyway.

By the end of this wonderful novel the world has shifted into a new age with the past age forgotten, remembered only in obscure fragments. The end of the world is not apocalyptic but experienced individually, at the unconscious level, with none of the fireworks of conventional fantasy.

The Aegypt Cycle is a dense, multifaceted and completely immersive read. I found myself almost a part of its construction as if I was a vital character looking down on its entirety from above; all down to John Crowley's skillful use of post-modern self-reference. It's no exaggeration to say Daemonomania, along with the other novels, is a work of literature. But you will not find the book in a British shop and in the US you would have to search through the Sci-Fi and Fantasy shelves before, if your lucky, finding a copy. It's been ignored by the literary establishment (except Harold Bloom), but it towers over most modern mainstream fiction. I look forward to the conclusion of the series in 'Endless Things.'

For a better and more in-depth review of Daemonomania and the Aegypt Cycle read Genre Trouble by James Hynes.

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