cover image Mr. Mee

Mr. Mee

Andrew Crumey. Picador USA, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26803-9

Musing on Rousseau, the French encyclopedists and the vagaries of chance and identity, Crumey (Pfitz; D'Alembert's Principle) has written another novel of ideas in the grand tradition of Calvino, Borges and Kundera. This delightful romp around the knottiest concerns raised by Enlightenment philosophers and postmodernists alike centers on the long-vanished Rosier's Encyclopaedia, a 200-year-old French text that may challenge the existence of the universe. Setting out to track down Rosier's work, dotty old Mr. Mee, a reclusive British book collector, embarks on a quest that introduces him to the Internet in all its seamy variety (he finds an unclad woman reading a Rosier-related text on one site) and brings on the attentions of a ""life scientist"" named Catriona, who introduces him to the pleasures of the flesh. Mee's narrative alternates with that of a Dr. Petrie, a professor of French literature desperately in love with one of his students, and Ferrand and Minard, the bumbling 18th-century French copyists charged with reproducing Rosier's original manuscript. Mee may be the most endearing narrator, and Ferrand and Minard the most haplessly slapstick, but Petrie proves the most perceptive, lacing his lovelorn lamentations with reflections on Proust and Flaubert. Crumey also provides tantalizing glimpses of the Encyclopaedia itself, its treatises all absurdly outdated and yet provocatively applicable to modern-day computer science and physics. The novel isn't perfectDits philosophical asides can be hard going, and it's easy to lose patience with the exaggerated ineptitude of all its narratorsDbut Crumey's light treatment of hefty material should win the minds, if not the hearts, of his readers. (Mar.) Forecast: Crumey has yet to achieve the name recognition of Umberto Eco or even Arturo P rez-Reverte, but this strong effort and the many glowing reviews it's bound to receive should attract a few more readers to him.