At a dinner party hosted by a wealthy New Yorker, a guest receives a gold adze, the coveted prize in a worm race. When the man dies the next day, he bequeaths, according to a stipulation in his will, the bulk of his fortune to the adze's possessor, provided he answer three mysterious questions relating to the artifact's history. In his search the owner encounters a menagerie of eccentric personalities: an ancient revolutionary in a Parisian prison, a ludicrous pair of gibberish-speaking brothers, and customs officials who spend their time reading contraband materials. He soon finds himself immersed in the centuries-long history of a persecuted religious sect and in an odyssey that begins in a forgotten fog-covered town in Scotland and ends on the ocean floor off the cost of an uncharted French island. A wild goose chase through a remarkably unusual world, The Conversions invites both reader and protagonist to participate in a quest for answers to an elusive game.
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(216mm x 142mm x 15mm)
Dalkey Archive Press
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A very odd, brilliant, symbolic novel. The young protagonist, at a rich man's house, runs a race with worms (Man's life, perhaps?) to an odd musical theme and wins an antique adze. The rich man dies and leaves the young man his fortune, if he can unriddle the secret of the adze. In his search the youth encounters -(a) a novelist who describes his novel about death on the ice, and then how he won the adze from gypsies after some curious ritual contests; (b) some revolutionists who believe in light for everyone, and some people who talk only nonsense; (c) a sad story about a bourgeois Heaven. This contains a reference to a family and experiments on Flesh Metal in Silver Glen, which in turn leads to a myth about worshippers of Silvius, and their persecution and scattering. The uncovering of myths and meanings is as complex as Graves' The White Goddess (through cryptic alterations, the musical theme, letters, etc.) and winds up in the discovery of a similar Goddess myth, the Queen's grim death, and the relations of the gypsies to the ritual and the adze. The young man loses his inheritance, suspects the whole story to be a posthumous hoax, but nevertheless finds the Moon Queen's monument under the ocean. In between are mad, wild, entertaining stories about people with Rube Goldberg machines or ideas for changing life. Probably a symbolic search for life's secrets funny, puzzling and written with the detailed dream-in-life near logic of a Kafka or a Joyes. Certainly not every man's ment?? but some will claim it. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Harry Mathews
Harry Mathews (born February 14, 1930) is an American author of various novels, volumes of poetry and short fiction, and essays. Harry Mathews was the first American chosen for membership in the French literary society known as the Oulipo, which is dedicated to exploring new possibilities in literature, in particular through the use of various constraints and algorithms. The late French writer Georges Perec, likewise a member, was a good friend, and the two translated some of each other's writings. Mathews considers many of his works to be Oulipian in nature, but even before he encountered the society he was working in a parallel direction. Mathews is currently married to the writer Marie Chaix and divides his time between Paris, Key West, and New York.