AS ABOVE, SO BELOW: A Novel of Peter Bruegel
As intricate—if not as fluent—as one of its subject's own vivid depictions of 16th-century life in the Spanish-dominated Low Countries, Rucker's fictionalized life of Bruegel draws its readers into a teeming world of politics, art, love, sin and loss. Rucker has marshaled years of research into 16 chapters, each built around one of Bruegel's famous paintings and highlighting a pivotal experience in the artist's life. Bruegel left his boyhood village to be apprenticed to Master Coecke of Antwerp, and once a master himself, traveled to Italy to be smitten by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Once back in Belgium, he began to receive commissions for his paintings, using audacious perspectives and even more risky interpretations of religious themes. Rucker's own boisterously crowded canvas includes characters like homosexual cartographer Ortelius, the scheming bishop and later cardinal Granvelle, the charismatic half-American Indian Williblad Cheroo, and young Mayken, Bruegel's adored wife and canny business manager. Though Rucker's literal-minded narration repeatedly leads him to tell rather than show ("Bruegel was beginning to feel the stirrings of romantic love"; "For her part, Mayken acted quite unromantic"), he skillfully interlaces his account of Bruegel's various artistic and literary influences with insights into the genesis of some of his most renowned works. This is clearly a labor of love and, though sometimes less than graceful, it grapples handily with Bruegel's genius—his ability to wittily and gracefully recreate all human activity, from the sublime to the scatological. 16 b&w reproductions. (Dec.)
Forecast: The chapter-header reproductions of Bruegel paintings aren't in color, but are well chosen and enticing. Rucker is best known as a writer of science fiction and mathematical nonfiction, and a few of his readers may cross over, but the novel's likeliest readers are Bruegel enthusiasts, who will relish the detail Rucker musters.
Release date: 11/01/2002