cover image THE PROCEDURE


Harry Mulisch, , trans. from the Dutch by Paul Vincent. . Viking, $24.95 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-670-91024-3

When Mulisch's masterpiece, The Discovery of Heaven, was published in the United States (1997), it was hailed as his magnum opus. His newest again approaches science from a literary perspective—this time the creation of life from inanimate matter. God created Adam from clay; Doctor Frankenstein used the parts of corpses; Pygmalion used marble. Victor Werker, a middle-aged scientist, has discovered an "eobiont"—a clay crystal with metabolic properties and self-reproducing powers. That such discoveries lead to disaster is prefigured in the admonitory tale that begins the book, a retelling of the story of Rabbi Jehudah Löw, a 16th-century Prague rabbi who, at the behest of the mystagogic emperor, Rudolf II (a man who kept half the charlatans of Europe at his court), animated a clay figure, or golem. The golem promptly killed Löw's son-in-law, Isaac. Fast-forward to Victor in Berkeley, where he is writing letters to his ex-lover Clara, ostensibly addressed to their dead daughter, Aurora. Victor's eobiont has made him famous, but his power to create life normally has been cruelly thwarted: Clara left him after her pregnancy resulted in a stillbirth. Victor is a mixture of appealing gentleness and appalling egotism, especially when it comes to jockeying for credit for the eobiont, and he has totally (and in his mind justly) supplanted his partner, Brock. Now he thinks Brock is behind the phoned threats that seem to dog Victor—but are the calls real or just symptoms of his paranoia? Although it feels somewhat disjointed overall, like a fantasia between novels, Mulisch's obviously powerful literary intelligence is at work here. (July 9)

Forecast:The esteem Mulisch gained for The Discovery of Heaven will probably ensure respectful reviews, but lame jacket art (a clay-covered fist) and the lurking sense that this is a minor work may discourage potential buyers.