There is only one time I wish I were Harold Bloom, and that’s when I finish reading a book by John Crowley. What I want is a platform to tell the world about this author who seems to hide in plain sight. How does he do that? How can he write so well? Each time I’ve completed a book in the Aegypt cycle (this is the third — here are my reviews of The Solitudes, and Love and Sleep), it has loosed its hold on me only slowly. I’ve taken days, sometimes, to exit its spell. While I’m reading, as slowly as possible to wring all the pleasure I can from the book, I feel that happy, excited feeling in the gut that means I’m in love. (Love, of course, enters through the eyes, right off the page.)

In Daemonomania, Crowley takes the ideas he established in the first two books — that once, the world was otherwise, and alchemy and magic were as real as physics and chemistry are today — and moves a step further. Could it be that one person, or one set of people, in a passage time from one age into another, could actually be responsible for saving the world? Pierce Moffett, the protagonist of these novels, is stuck, horrified by the weight of this responsibility and drowning in the absurdity of the notion, knowing he will botch the job (whatever the job actually is) but unable not to try. Woven into that narrative is the story of John Dee’s sojourn at court in Prague, abandoned by his angels — were they ever angels at all, or were they always demons? — and scarcely knowing what the next right step would be. Yet even in the midst of this despair, there is hope and an aching tenderness. Bright threads among these thick, soft textures: a hospital in the city, a child with epilepsy, a frightening evangelical cult, werewolves, a powerful sexual relationship, a crystal ball, flowing water.

These books are arranged according to the astrological houses. In Daemonomania, you find the house of Uxor (marriage, divorce, business relationships), Mors (death and rebirth, committed relationships, finances), and Iter (journeys and religion.) So Pierce, wrapped in a fierce dominant relationship with Rose, is moved to offer marriage as the one possible path that could lead them both out of the cult’s clutches; Rosie Rasmussen considers the rebirth of her heart; John Dee constructs a boat with wheels that will sail him far away from Prague on the winds the angels gave into his charge. Every detail is disorienting, faceted, dislocating, and perfectly right. I read, and think, Yes, of course, although nothing, really, could be stranger.

Apart from the perfectly-crafted story, of course, is the writing. I can’t count the number of times I re-read passages, just to get the pleasure of them again, just to get some sense of how, how, how he had done it. Look at this one:

If courts of law are like crossroads — one road leading to punishment, cost, or confinement, and the other to liberty, exculpation, vindication — then the waiting rooms of doctors are like the trunks of trees: the squirrel of your thought scampers out along a hundred branching ways as you sit there with the doctor’s magazines, running toward cure, toward quick cure, toward nothing really wrong at all; or toward something sort of mysteriously wrong which might one day get worse, a little worse, a lot worse, or really quickly worse, very bad right now, much worse than you thought or than you feel, but then maybe better, the resources of medicine — as mysterious as the forces of disease — brought all to bear, one quick treatment, or a few treatments, many treatments, endless treatments, bewilderment, failure, surrender. Death. Life. Half-life,worse than death. All these embryonic fruiting bodies ready to come forth at each twig tip.

Can’t you see the squirrel, your mind, scampering along all those possibilities? Haven’t you done that yourself? Oh, what a writer.

Every time I write a review of one of Crowley’s books, I feel completely inadequate to the task, and as if I’m giving away a secret. Please, just read one. Let him speak for himself.

This entry was posted in Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Daemonomania

  1. What a beautifully written review! You had me with the first paragraph. “Love enters through the eyes” as applied to books! Guess John Crowley is going on my list of authors I must check out.

    • Jenny says:

      I’d start with Little, Big, since that’s a standalone novel (one of the most brilliant I have read in the past ten years.) It should hook you, if anything will!

  2. Steph says:

    This sounds really wonderful, and you have me wondering how I have never heard of this author! The premise sounds a bit to me like A Discovery of Witches which I read earlier this year and really adored so I definitely think I’ll need to try this out!

    • Jenny says:

      I’m not sure it will be much like A Discovery of Witches, Steph — there isn’t a lot of page-turning plot — but I absolutely cannot recommend Crowley more highly.

  3. Megan Steer says:

    This is a wonderful review! I couldn’t agree with you more about John Crowely- he is amazing.This is the only book in the Aegypt cycle I haven’t read, so thanks to you I know what I’m going to be reading next!

    • Jenny says:

      You read the fourth one without reading the third one? So you know how it turns out! But this one is more than worth reading.

  4. This sounds about right. For some reason – surely not a good one – I have yet to read the conclusion to the series.

    • Jenny says:

      I don’t know why — maybe because of the sheer richness of the writing — it took me a year to get between Love and Sleep and this one. But I hope it won’t take me so long to get to Endless Things.

  5. Gavin says:

    Beautiful review, Jenny. After I reread “Little, Big” I have to read the first three books in the Aegypt cycle again, so I can finally get to “Endless Things”.

  6. softdrink says:

    Do they have to be read in order, or do they work as stand alones?

    • Jenny says:

      I definitely think they should be read in order, but if you want a standalone, read Little, Big — one of the very best, most amazing novels I’ve read in the past ten years.

      • DKS says:

        Yes: I can see someone picking up one of the later books and being satisfied by the language alone, and dreaming and drugging along in a rapt mist, but sheerly plot-wise you might end up shaking your fist at the pages, howling, “I thought we were in America. Who is this man with the accent and why is he being burnt at the stake?” Although perhaps not. Crowley’s said that he starts working at some point in the book (maybe the part that ends up in the middle) and moves out and around this beginning-place; he doesn’t write the story in order, and the atmosphere of the whole work is so floating that it might not matter if you don’t read it in order either.

        Engine Summer wouldn’t make a bad standalone introduction either, although it doesn’t have quite the same collision between the real world and the hidden world, as Little, Big, and the Aegypt books. (It has a collision, but a different one.)

    • Jenny says:

      I have a difficult time imagining shaking my fist and howling at anything Crowley wrote (unless I were a werewolf?) but I can envision some frustration, yes.

      I haven’t read Engine Summer yet! I am waiting to finish the Aegypt books and then I am going to work slowly and with satisfaction through the rest.

  7. sakura says:

    How have I not heard of this author?? I’m definitely putting the Aegypt books on my wishlist and of course, Little, Big. Anyway, anything with John Dee in it is a must-read.

    • Jenny says:

      I know several people who agree with you! But I am always delighted to introduce someone to Crowley; so few people seem to have heard of him, and everyone should.

Leave your comment here, and feel free to respond to others' comments. We enjoy a lively conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.