Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Glenn Haybittle's Review of The Alchemy of Chance

The Alchemy of Chance is about maps, the guides we use to make headway in life. These maps aren’t always visible configurations of roads and rivers: often they consist of tides, star pulses behind the appearance of things, magnetic forces that are not available to the human eye. The heart too is a map; and perhaps the most fateful map of all.

When Aurelie Pêguissoux loses her sight in a car accident she has to map out a new set of coordinates for herself. She sets out on a journey of rediscovery. Meanwhile, in Wales, Dafydd Williams is given a mission by his father – to find his missing brother. The only clues to his whereabouts are a sequence of postcards all sent from various parts of France.

The Alchemy of Chance impresses with the creativity and lively courageous intelligence that has gone into its design. The prose is consistently as crisp and confident as the footprints of a fox in virgin snow. This novel, about map making, is also a map in itself, a complex intricately drawn map. That chance has a design to it is of course the premise of pretty much every novel ever written: we make order from shavings and rinds, from stains and litter, from what is strewn and overlooked as much as from what is photographed and cherished, Peter Brooks though is drawing up a map of the map so to speak which is a fascinating and exciting idea. Once we have this idea of the map every detail has the eye-catching pull of a landmark, a pathway, a clue. We see what he describes in a conventional context but we also see it shifted into a poetic realm where its significance, its consequence is still buried, is accumulating meaning and force before it’s eventually unearthed and integrated into the overall pattern, becomes another part of the map. We participate in the drawing up of this map with the excitement of an archaeologist taking off the top soil of an ancient burial mound. We know this is a treasure map.

The Alchemy of Chance is a life-affirming romantic adventure into a world where the secret poetry of synchronicity is a constant guide and companion.

Glenn Haybittle, Florence, Italy

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