THE JUSTIFICATION OF JOHANN GUTENBERG
Morrison (author of the well-received memoir And When Did You Last See Your Father?) dissects the downfall of the man who transformed the art of printing into an industry in this fictional biography, which illuminates the underexplored life of the great 15th-century inventor. The early episodes covering Gutenberg's upbringing are mundane, but the narrative gains interest when he becomes a metalsmith and rebels against the restrictive German guild system while developing the idea for his revolutionary printing press. Gutenberg builds his first press while working in a monastery, but when the church hierarchy disapproves of mass-producing Bibles, he is forced to seek funding from a rich burgher named Fust. Gutenberg plays fast and loose with Fust's money as he tries to get himself betrothed to the businessman's young daughter Christina, with whom he falls in love on the heels of a disastrous affair. But Gutenberg seriously underestimates Fust's business savvy, and as his deadlines continue to slip, he slides deeper into debt until Fust hauls him into court in an effort to ruin the brilliant inventor. Morrison reinvents Gutenberg as a competent but somewhat melodramatic and pedantic narrator, although he does manage to capitalize on the tension as Gutenberg's hubris gets the best of him in his business and romantic affairs. While Morrison never quite transforms the inventor into an unforgettable literary protagonist and much of the writing remains disappointingly pedestrian, the biographical and historical details make this well worth the read. (Oct. 8)
Forecast:Considering that Gutenberg can be called the patron saint of the publishing world (and Morrison is a writer with publishing world ties—he used to be the literary editor of the Independent on Sunday), this novel should get respectable review coverage.
Release date: 10/01/2002