The Grand Complication

The Grand Complication

Book - 2001
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Baker & Taylor
Confronted by both professional and personal crises, reference librarian Alexander Short gains a new lease on life when he meets Henry James Jesson III, a collector who shares a number of Alexander's uncoventional interests and who hires him for some after-hours research into an enigmatic eighteenth-century inventor. By the author of A Case of Curiosities. 60,000 first printing.

Blackwell North Amer
The account begins with Alexander's job in jeopardy and his marriage destined for the Discard shelf. Enter the improbably named Henry James Jesson III, a bibliophile who hires the librarian for some after-hours research. The task: to render whole an incomplete cabinet of wonders chronicling the life of a mysterious eighteenth-century inventor. As the investigation heats up, Alexander realizes there are many more secrets lurking in Jesson's cloistered world than those found inside his elegant Manhattan town house. With a notebook tethered to his jacket, Alexander plunges headlong into the search, only to discover that the void in the cabinet is rivaled by an emptiness in his heart.

& Taylor

Confronted by both professional and personal crises, reference librarian Alexander Short gains a new lease on life when he meets Henry James Jesson III, who hires him for some research into an enigmatic eighteenth-century inventor.

Publisher: New York : Hyperion, c2001
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780786866038
Characteristics: 359 p. ; 25 cm


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Dec 31, 2017

The Grand Complication: a novel by Allen Kurzweil (Theia, 2001) is a delightful story that delivers an overstuffed display case of trivia centered on libraries. Each of the Acknowledgments at the back begins with a Dewey Decimal call number (“case mark”). I made four pages of notes for myself. And I found some problems. The story is easy enough: boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy finds girl.

Our librarian hero and his artist wife are torn apart by his obsession with work for a private collector who entices him to search for a grand piece of mechanical jewelry, “The Marie Antoinette” made by Abraham-Louis Breuget (his catalog number 160), stolen in 1983 from a Jerusalem museum. (See. Wikipedia.) It was recovered after this book was published. (See Breuget website.)

As a good title, this one is a pun because like the timepiece, the antagonist himself is a complication. Eventually, our hero triumphs, of course, with the help of his friends, and his wife.

Going back over my notes, I find that some of the vocabulary seems local to the author’s own library.
However, I was happy to learn the both the proper name for when pages are uncut at the edges (“unopened gathering”) and the proper way to cut them apart. Deckle, finding aid, class marks, phase box, … KWIC (key word in context), and a slew of Dewey Decimal numbers (Rock Music 781.66) to add to those which I did know.

The attention to detail made the errors I caught stand out. On page 23 is a “blond woman.” On page 147 is an allusion to a mathematician who won a Nobel Prize. It is not impossible for a mathematician to garner the award for work in medicine or world peace, etc., but it is famously known that there is no Nobel Prize in mathematics. On page 338, to activate old automata, the hero uses old coins, including a Liberty dime for which there are several possibilities from the Draped Bust and Seated through the so-called “Mercury” or “Winged Head Liberty.” There follows a simple typographical error, no capital B in “Buffalo nickel” (properly called the Indian Head or Buffalo 5-cent nickel coin). But such oversights made this book even more fun to read.
An interesting glitch from our own local library is their catalog citation:
The grand complication
Kurzweil, Allen.
Publisher:: Hyperion,
Pub date:: c2001.
Pages:: 359 p. ;
In the book itself, our hero says that he has written a book about this adventure and had it carefully typeset to a perfect 360 pages for the 360 degrees in a circle. Indeed, the book runs 360 - not 359 - pages.

CRRL_MegRaymond Oct 17, 2017

A librarian is asked to research an 18th century “memento hominem”, or life box, originally belonging to a talented French watchmaker and pornographer named Claude Page. Then read A Case of Curiosities, which tells Page’s story more fully.

WVMLStaffPicks Dec 23, 2014

Alexander Short, a witty, brow beaten employee of the New York Public Library comes to the aid of a bibliophile searching for information about a rare timepiece made for Marie Antoinette. A robust cast of supporting characters comes together to create this delightful, intellectual romp.


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