Monday, November 5, 2012

Lightning Quick

Lightning: A Novel, a small volume from a new hybrid genre of fictionalized biography, insinuated its way into my towering library borrowings stack.  It was a quick read with an educational payoff.

This is biography as storytelling, a narrative speculation on the life of neurotic, revolutionary inventor Nikola Tesla. The fictionalized specific events, closely based on the history of Tesla's inventions, and the author's speculations into Tesla's emotional state as the picaresque tale of his business dealings unfolds, place the book in the shaded area between historical fiction and popular history; the former is emphasized by the word "novel" on the cover and the use of "Gregor" rather than "Nikola" as the name of the protagonist.

French author Echenoz creates a story arc not through technological developments but through the use of recurring, colorful details as markers: Gregor's fondness for aviary companions; his fastidiousness of dress; his obsessive-compulsive habits. The product is a breezy, accessible introduction to the life of Tesla that could serve as a treatment for a one-man stage play.

My only hesitation in recommending this book, and others from the same author and genre, is that the story framework has the depth of a Wikipedia article; indeed, the sum of the author's background research could have been the Wikipedia article on Tesla.  By calling the book a novel and by emphasizing the subject's mindset over his technological contributions (other than to mention them serially as new examples of his propensity to get cheated), the author seems to be communicating the message: this is a work of narrative art, not history or technology; please don't criticize me for not including citations.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...