The Confusion

I’ve been spending a lot of hours with Neal Stephenson and his new novel The Confusion these days. I enjoyed volume one of his “Baroque Cycle,” Quicksilver, a great deal, even if there were a few pages where I found myself skimming rather than face drowning in a surfeit of detail. The first hundred pages or so of the new book, which is volume 2 in the BC, seemed to start off slow, but I can’t say whether that was a flaw of the writing or just the fact that my tired brain wasn’t up to the density of the author’s inventiveness. However, the book turned a corner for me with its description of the piratical exploits of one of its main characters, and turned into a “ripping yarn.”

In a Metaweb entry, commentator Jeremy Bornstein points out that “(t)he French term “L’Emmerdeur,” which in the novel refers to Jack Shaftoe, is difficult to translate precisely. The literal reading is something like “The guy who covers stuff in shit,” but it’s more like a curse of admiration in this case.” I found myself thinking of a minor character in another Stephenson book – well, actually, the book I’m thinking of is Interface, a book NS wrote with his uncle under the pseudonym Stephen Bury [yes, I know, this is getting baroque…] – a character named Scatflinger. Not that this observation will mean anything to anybody, but it’s a grotesque demonstration of how my overstuffed brain works when given a few minutes of leisure time. Anyway, our guy NS can really fling the scat, and I’m looking forward to volume 3 of the cycle.

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