"Codex" book trailer
by Lev Grossman
Tags: Codex by Lev Grossman
Added: 1 year ago
Edward Wozny, a fast-track
investment banker, is about
to leave New York for a
new job in London,
when he is asked for
help by one of his firm's
important clients, who wants
him to catalog a collection of
Edward is aghast:
a banker asked to do
Inevitably, though, he is drawn
into the project and the
multiple mysteries it holds,
but there is another distraction:
his computer-geek friend has
hooked Edward on a bizarre,
interactive computer game
that may be more than it seems.
There's a lot going on here,
both online and in the library,
and most of it is
thoroughly fascinating ...
Codex: a novel
The cerebral thriller Codex drops up-and-coming investment banker wunderkind Edward Wozny into the musty realm of medieval literature, where he finds an unexpected break from the rat race--a powerful client's commission to uncrate and organize a library. The diversion quickly becomes an obsession after he enlists the help of the quirkily attractive scholar Margaret Napier. Together they discover his employer, the mysterious Duchess of Bowmry, is in a race with her husband to locate an apocryphal codex that could destroy the Bowmry name. Meanwhile, Edward becomes engrossed in an addicting computer game that bears an uncanny similarity to the object of his search and accelerates his transformation from Wall Street wizard into shiftless dreamer.
For the most part, Edward moves through his adventure merely following Margaret's dedicated lead. As each new twist unfolds, he slips further into the comforting daydream of a life that isn't his but is as thrilling as the race for the codex. Codex wrestles with notions of dreams and reality that commingle as Edward finds himself adrift in a sea of passionate scholars and Old World plots. In all, Lev Grossman's novel is excellent entry into the emerging genre of literary history thrillers with an added twist for the technophile.
A young investment banker burrows deep into a labyrinthine world of computer games and literary riddles in this captivating thriller by Time book critic Grossman (Warp). On a two-week vacation before he heads for a new post in London, 25-year-old golden boy Edward Wozny volunteers his services to the Wents, the duchess and duke of Bowmry, two of the firm's biggest clients. Since he assumes they require his financial expertise, he is exasperated—and then intrigued—to discover they wish him to catalogue a collection of ancient books in the attic of their New York apartment. Captivated by the library of rare manuscripts, Edward finds himself oddly content in this mystifying world of words. A special request adds extra urgency to the assignment: he is asked to find a possibly mythical codex by 14th-century monk Gervase of Langford, A Viage to the Contree of the Cimmerians. Most scholars believe that the text—which predicts the coming of the apocalypse and may conceal Went family secrets—never existed, and that view is shared by Margaret Napier, a hard-nosed graduate student whom Edward enlists to aid him in his daunting task. Fixated on locating the codex, Edward becomes equally preoccupied with MOMUS, an intricate, frighteningly vivid computer game. Cyberworld and real world are more connected than Edward realizes, and he gradually discovers that the game is intimately related to his literary sleuthing. A trip to England and a well-orchestrated final twist bring this intelligent, enjoyable novel to a fittingly understated conclusion.
'Heart of Dorkness'
By Polly Shulman
Published: March 21, 2004
By Lev Grossman.
348 pp. New York:
A LITTLE more than halfway through ''Codex,'' Lev Grossman's second novel, an investment banker named Edward Wozny comes upon a bookcase full of ''books about books -- bibliographies of obscure literary figures, catalogs of long-dispersed scriptoria, histories of printing and publishing and bindings and typefaces.'' You could argue -- as literary theorists, especially deconstructionists and their friends, did for years -- that all books belong in that bookcase, since they engage with their literary lineage at least as much as they do with the real world (whatever that might be). However, ''Codex'' has a better claim than most novels to a spot there -- and not just because its title means, as a snooty scholar tells Edward, ''what someone like you would call a book.'' ''Codex'' takes its place on the shelf of self-referential, bibliophilic page turners like ''The Name of the Rose,'' ''Possession'' and ''A Case of Curiosities,'' and it's as entertaining as any of them.
Success has come early to Edward. This 25-year-old has a secretary, more money than he has time to spend it and an exciting new position: his company is transferring him to the London office in two weeks. Before flying off to start his new job, he pays a last courtesy visit to the Upper East Side pied-a-terre of a pair of clients, the fabulously wealthy Wents, Duke and Duchess of Bowmry. There he's given a task: to sort through the duke's library of rare old books, which were brought over in crates just before World War II and have been moldering forgotten ever since. In particular, he's to look out for a book by Gervase of Langford, a contemporary of Chaucer's, whose lost (or perhaps imaginary) ''Viage to the Contree of the Cimmerians'' has tantalized scholars for centuries. The duchess wants it found; the duke wants it lost. Edward wants to know why it's so important. The quest takes him on a noir chase through library after library, with a chilly but alluring graduate student at his side, a sinister chauffeur at his heels and a glittering trail of money drawing him on.
Why pick a banker to catalog your library? Why not, say, a librarian? The Wents have a track record for getting their hooks into bright young people like Edward, offering them freedom from the ordinary work world in exchange for permanent feudal service. (The tradition goes back to Gervase, in fact, who left a promising career at court to take a secure but obscure post as secretary to the first Duke of Bowmry.) But the choice works equally well as a storytelling strategy. Although Edward has his own banking expertise and jargon -- Grossman clearly adores expertise and jargon -- in the scholarly world he's an outsider, a newbie. His ignorance provides readers with a point of entry: as he learns more and more bibliographic esoterica, so do we.
Is the ''Viage'' a manuscript? Is it an incunable -- a book made in the first 50 years of printing? Is it nothing more than an 18th-century rewriting of a genuine 14th-century source text, done up in fake, ye-olde language -- like a novelization of a movie based on a novel,'' as Margaret, the sexy grad student, puts it? Is it a literary forgery like the similarly named ''Culex,'' which claimed to be Virgil's juvenilia, or the similarly themed ''Travels of Sir John Mandeville''? Could it be what bibliographers call a ghost -- a book that has been documented but never actually existed?
If ''Codex'' can trace its parentage on one side to self-referential writers like Laurence Sterne or Borges, on the other side it's descended from the computer game Tomb Raider and its movie versions, the Lara Croft series. (In fact, I kept imagining Angelina Jolie as Margaret.) A second line of narrative runs parallel to the book hunt, heading off to meet it in the distance like a pair of railroad tracks, and taking us into territory well mapped by members of the cyberpunk school of science fiction, such as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson.
Edward's friends Zeph and Caroline, dot-com cash-outs, and their borderline-autistic colleague, who is known as the Artiste, introduce him to a Myst-like computer game called Momus. Zeph takes Edward to a LAN party -- LAN stands for Local Area Network -- where dozens of undersocialized information technology professionals pit their wits over high-bandwidth cables. ''Dude, I feel like you're leading me right into the heart of dorkness,'' Edward says. He's a stranger in the world of computer gamers and programmers, just as he is in the library; we enter it with him: ''He was starting to see what people found so addictive about these games. Momus had none of the slapdash inefficiency of reality: every moment was tense with hushed anticipation, foreordained meaning. It was a brighter, higher-grade, more compelling, better-engineered version of reality.'' You might say, just like fiction.
Zeph doesn't think so. Momus is an open-source code, collaborative software. ''Momus is big,'' Zeph tells Edward. ''Nobody knows who started it, it just bubbled up from our collective unconscious via the Internet. Not even the Artiste knows about everything that's in it. It's bigger than books. That library you're messing around with? Obsolete information technology. We're witnessing the dawn of a whole new artistic medium, and we don't even appreciate it.''
As the two stories begin to entwine, questions about the primacy of narrative over form, or medium over message, begin to bubble up from beneath the text. What does the shifting technology of storytelling do to the stories being told? What happens to the single thread of narrative once interactive forms like computer games introduce narrative multiplicity? While such questions are a staple of the genre, they're easy to ignore if you don't find them interesting. What sets Grossman's novel apart is not its abstractions but the satisfying concreteness of his metaphors. During a chase scene in a library, for example, Edward uses an office chair to prop open the doors of an elevator: ''They munched on it noisily in the silence like a monstrous baby gumming a chew toy.'' At the brink of making an ethical choice, Edward imagines a line that he's about to cross: ''That line was very, very near -- he could sense it, smell it buzzing dangerously like a downed power line, yards away in space and minutes away in time.''
As with any mystery or fantasy, the tricky part is the ending. Grossman, the book critic for Time magazine, hints that the devastating secret, as with other bibliographic thrillers, might be a blank. ''It makes a good story,'' Margaret says. ''Not everything means something, you know.'' Such a good story that in this case, its meaning -- or lack thereof -- hardly matters.