I finished reading the book in week2; it is hard to slow down your pace when the book is cruising along splendidly.
As I had said, the book is pretentious in places, but enjoyable mostly. Once Ludo, the genius son takes over the narration, the broken sentences disappear, and the cyclic, repeating nature of the book becomes more pronounced. Sibylla appears only in conversations with her son, and she sometimes tells interesting stories. Stories of failed geniuses of course, since she (and Dewitt) seems to specialize in them. One of the remarkable stories is that of Hugh Carey and Raymond Drecker (not real people, irrespective of how Sibylla presents it) – two geniuses, of significantly different nature. While Hugh is an insatiable, hyper young achiever who wants to be constantly wondered at and admired, Raymond is a person who mulls, introspects and aches over philosophical questions (and wonders how they can be answered in an exam of two hours). HC, realizing the genius and the only worthy opponent in RD, constantly pushes the latter (through chess games!), so that his own achievements are more meaningful. In the real world, of course, HC jumps far ahead, while RD hides in an anonymous corner writing dictionaries.
HC, in a quest to achieve yet another un-achievable, goes to China and encounters a romantic story of tribes and hardships. A story that is both fantastic and ridiculous.
In the end of the story it seems, Dewitt refuses both kind of geniuses. One becomes obscure, other too worldly, and it is remarkable how she choses an uninspiring fate for each genius that she has picked up. Somehow this hopelessness has attracted me to her writing -I would have thought less of her if she had shone either of these two against the other. Because doing that would have meant that she has discovered a greatness that is happy in a world which is not great – something that is counter-intuitive. (I know my words are sloppy here, and I will phrase it better after more thought)
What Ludo is doing meanwhile, is going on a quest for a father. He finds his real one, rejects him for his fallacies, and then goes about finding the samurai-like fathers. These are people from his mother’s stories, and one by one, he goes to meet them, and claims to be their son. The results are hilarious in most cases – dangerous in some. But with each meeting Ludo comes out with a conviction on where this father failed, why he would not want to be his son.
In the lists of these potential fathers also is HC, and eventually Yamamoto. Each of these encounters says a little about the absurdity of modern life, and the bogus nature of popular genius.