“Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions” by Edwin A. Abbott

Books

Flatland

And what a romance! A geometric, algorithmic, multi-spacial romance. In fact, I was so moonstruck by this novella’s trigonometric charms that I read it a second and a third time, repeatedly entranced by its cacophonous journeys through terrains of dimensional discord.

Flatland is a two-dimensional world inhabited by a legion of polygonal shapes (except for the women, who are straight lines), whose angles and proportionality determine their position within the social echelon. Isosceles triangles make up the microcosm’s soldiers and workmen, circles comprise the priestly cast, and squares and pentagons, including the story’s narrator, A. Square, are the “gentlemen” class, and hold professions such as doctor and lawyer.

Socially, Flatland is a very rigid and uncompromising place, with countless customs and affectations that result from its dimensional limitations, such as “The Art of Feeling”, which is used to identify other forms.

In the 2D world of Flatland, shapes appear as straight lines, the same as a coin appears as a straight line when viewed from its side in the three dimensional sphere where you and I live.

Flatland_(first_edition)_page_23b

Flatland is replete with hand-drawn diagrams that illustrate the perspective of its inhabitants, like the ones above which show how polygonal forms appear as only sides and angles, depending on their relative position.

Women, being mere line segments, have the unique ability to appear as near-invisible points depending on their approach, the same as a sewing needle appears as a single point when viewed head-on in our comely, three-dimensional sphere. Women are portrayed as dangerous, irrational beings, prone to manic fits and limited intelligence, a misogynistic and hilarious nod to the Victorian-era civilization the novel parodies.

Flatland places a great deal of emphasis on the mathematical tangibility of its settings, with countless diagrams, equations, and blueprints punctuating its pages.

But this is not a story about shapes or geometry or arithmetical beings. Flatland is a story about dissonance, perception, and existential discovery, particularly that of the novel’s protagonist, A. Square.

One night, A. Square has a dream in which he visits the one-dimensional world of Lineland where his failed attempt to describe the realities of the second dimension to the region’s monarch proves infuriating and ultimately futile.

A. Square is then visited by a sphere from Spaceland, who experiences similar obstacles when explaining the spatial realities of his three dimensional home. A. Square cannot conceptualize the multidimensional world of Spaceland until seeing it with his own eye, which then forces him to reconcile the veracity of the third dimension with his own narrow, self-contained cosmology.

A. Square is transformed, his mind awakened to third dimension, now prepossessed by the theoretical possibility of a fourth, fifth, or sixth dimension.

Flatland‘s protagonist experiences what is colloquially known as having one’s mind blown. It reminded me of when I switched from streaming to Netflix or tasted real maple syrup for the first time: I was reborn, a transposed version of my former self, confounded by the heedless ignorance of my entire life up until that point.

The same is true for A. Square, a formerly content and self-assured being, who is quickly romanced by his newly acquired spatial realism. This forces at least a little angst on the reader, who must examine the dimensional limitations of her own world. Fun!

Flatland is a strange but charming little novel that spans a variety of genres including science fiction, non-fiction, and social satire, and can be read here in its entirety.

I really, really liked Flatland. It is a fun, amorous tale of contention and perception, and does a remarkably good job at explaining different dimensions while also functioning as a satire of Victorian society.

Flatland is a perplexing, bizarre, mathematical tale, and one that I was truly enamoured by. I can’t wait to read this romance-filled badboy yet again.

“Blindness” by José Saramago

Books

Blindness

A veil of milky blindness leaves an unnamed man in an unnamed city without sight. One minute he sits in his car waiting for the traffic light to change, the next his world is dissolved in brilliant pearly whiteness.

As the amaurosis spreads, hundreds of the recently blind are placed in quarantine, herded into an abandoned asylum surrounded by guards who have been instructed to shoot any potential escapees who risk spreading the white blindness to the outside. So begins José Saramago’s lurid portrayal of captive humanity, a novel replete with hulking paragraphs, sparse punctuation, and ambiguously written dialogue.

But this is a good thing! At least in the case of Blindness. Saramago wields a very distinctive writing style, one that perfectly mirrors the characters’ blinded plight. I love when writers do that!

Saramago’s writes page-long paragraphs that subject readers to the same forboding and stifling claustrophobia as the novel’s victims, and walls of unpunctuated dialogue keep readers ignorant of which internee is speaking and to whom.

In fact, none of the characters in Blindness are even named, instead descriptively referred to as “the first blind man,” “the doctor’s wife,” or “the boy with the squint”. As one of the characters states, “Blind people need no names.”

Much of Blindness takes place in the horrific asylum where basic needs such as food, clean water, and medicine are lacking and where the sightless microcosm succumbs to violence, filth, and societal breakdown. The reader, too, is confined to the crooked sanctum, blind to the endemic devastation that is spreading outside the asylum’s walls.

There’s really nothing better than an expertly crafted story about a debilitating epidemic that pushes its characters to the brink of humanity, am I right? Blindness is much like Albert Camus’ The Plague, but without the excruciating monotony, and much like John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, but without the carnivorous foliage.

I’m not saying Blindness couldn’t have used a little murderous greenery, but it definitely was one of the best books I’ve read all year, if not the best book I’ve read all year. (We’re in July now, so that’s a lot of books.)

I really, really want to give a vigorously detailed account of everything that happens in Blindness because it’s all so delightfully harrowing, but I will resist so as not to deter any of my faithful readers from exploring the unholy depths of its pages themselves.

Blindness is the first novel I’ve read by the Nobel Prize-winning José Saramago, who, as it turns out, was an absolute cutie:

Jose Saramago

Just look at those baby blues! I realize I’m making massive generalizations based on a single photo, but I bet he was the super-sweet quintessential grandpa type. He couldn’t not be with a face like that.

Regardless, Blindness is a fantastically bleak tale of tragedy and despair, and a deeply sociological portrayal of human desperation written with the command and sagacity of a true (and bloody adorable) master.

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Books

TheGoldfinch

The Goldfinch is Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning third novel, and one that allegedly took her a decade to write. That seems like an awfully long time, but given level of meticulous detail Tartt uses to construct her characters and settings (and the sheer length of the book!), I can understand why fans had to wait so long for this mesmerizing coming-of-age tale.

My mother ordered me a copy of The Goldfinch off Amazon after falling in love with the story, and I agreed to read it only half-heatedly, having never before heard of Tartt or The Goldfinch, and feeling a little dismayed that I had to disrupt my carefully planned reading queue.

But boy am I a sucker for a good coming-of-age tale.

Taking place in present-day America, the novel features 13-year-old Theodore Decker who, after losing his mother to a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, faces a maelstorm of uncertainty and displacement. The novel follows Theo throughout his youth as he struggles to make sense of his mother’s death, an event that sends him on a trajectory of drug use, theft, and self-realization.

The Goldfinch is special because it boasts excellent plot and character development; I find authors often sacrifice one for the other. Tartt is a master of crafting scenes with palpable detail and characters too uniquely flawed to exist only on paper.

This is the kind of story that co-opts your thoughts as you go about your day and leaves you with a book hangover once it’s finished. I carried this 800-page, hard-covered monstrosity everywhere with me: to work, to my diving class, on public transport, just in case some reading time presented itself to me.

One thing I would like to discuss with someone who has read this book is the ending. Endings can be difficult for readers. For me, the ending of The Goldfinch was difficult to reconcile. After spending a decade churning this novel out, I suppose the author is entitled to end her story however she pleases, and I absolutely see the reasoning behind the ending, but I found it just a pinch unsatisfying.

That said, The Goldfinch is excellent, and Donna Tartt is very much on my radar now.