cover image Music, in a Foreign Language

Music, in a Foreign Language

Andrew Crumey. Picador USA, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-14688-7

Crumey's thought-provoking but somewhat too ambitious debut stages love and betrayal in a subtly rendered British police state peopled by authoritarian bureaucrats and bobbies. Two story lines are unevenly linked by the musings of an introverted authorial figure, an exile from this prison state, writing his first novel (this one) while reflecting on his marriage. One plot focuses on Charles King, a physicist (like Crumey), and his friend, Cambridge historian Robert Waters, who has been chosen to write an official history of this alternate English revolution. Unfortunately, the official vetting turns up an incriminating political pamphlet, ""Flood,"" that Robert and Charles anonymously wrote years ago during a sort of Prague spring. The investigation in turn threatens to expose the routine betrayals of Charles's caddish lovelife (and his current liaison with Jenny, a London secretary) and the secret of Robert's repressed (and illegal) homosexuality, which he sought to hide through marriage. Interleaved with these events, which turn out to be flashbacks, is the contemporary story of Robert's son, Duncan, a constantly redrafted narrative in which Duncan mulls over his father's sudden death and his chance meeting with an Italian tourist while he is reading a book by metaphysician Alfredo Galli. This arch pastiche of Calvino does not quite work, and discursions on history, physics and music hamper the story. Crumey is more successful in skillfully enmeshing ordinary relationships in a subtly constructed totalitarian world. (Nov.)