The Organs of Sense

Adam Ehrlich Sachs. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-22737-1
In his sublime first novel (following the story collection Inherited Disorders), which recalls the nested monologues of Thomas Bernhard and the cerebral farces of Donald Antrim, Sachs demonstrates the difficulty of getting inside other people’s heads (literally and figuratively) and out of one’s own. In 1666, a young Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—the philosopher who invented calculus—treks to the Bohemian mountains to “rigorously but surreptitiously assess” the sanity of an eyeless, unnamed astronomer who is predicting an impending eclipse. Should the blind recluse’s prediction come to pass, Leibniz reasons, it would leave “the laws of optics in a shambles... and the human eye in a state of disgrace.” In the hours leading up to the expected eclipse, the astronomer, whose father was Emperor Maximilian’s Imperial Sculptor (and the fabricator of an ingenious mechanical head), tells Leibniz his story. As a young man still in possession of his sight, he became Emperor Rudolf’s Imperial Astronomer in Prague, commissioning ever longer telescopes, an “astral tube” whose exorbitant cost “seemed to spell the end of the Holy Roman Empire.” The astronomer also recounts his entanglements with the Hapsburgs, “a dead and damned family,” all of whom were mad or feigning madness. These transfixing, mordantly funny encounters with violent sons and hypochondriacal daughters stage the same dramas of revelation and concealment, reason and lunacy, doubt and faith, and influence and skepticism playing out between the astronomer and Leibniz. How it all comes together gives the book the feel of an intellectual thriller. Sachs’s talent is on full display in this brilliant work of visionary absurdism. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/12/2019
Release date: 05/21/2019
Genre: Fiction
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