The Books: “Hopeful Monsters” (Nicholas Mosley)

n128983.jpgI emailed Ted this morning, because it was time to pick up Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley, for my Daily Book Excerpt – and this was the next book on my adult fiction shelves and I was freaked out. Ted is the only other person I know who read this book – no, that’s not right … maybe Bren read it? I know my father read it, on my recommendation – and it’s a dense HUGE book – and I remember my dad joking, “Don’t ever give a book to me again” because it took him so long to get through it. But bless him, he finished it!! I have mentioned the book many times on the blog:

Contemporary must-read fiction

Cherished objects

10 books I couldn’t live without

although it has never gotten its own post. I find it daunting, not sure how to begin to talk about a book that means so much to me.

It feels as though Hopeful Monsters is actually expressing, in novel-form, my own beliefs and worldviews. I have never before encountered a book that I took so personally. Never. I have responded to books, I have loved the writing, the story, the characters – but this is more of a philosophical treatise, which speaks exactly to how I see the world. And so it is tremendously specific. Most books don’t reflect my own experience directly. And this one obviously doesn’t – it’s the dual story of a German-Jewish girl and a British boy – in the years between World War I and World War II … It has nothing to do with me, my life, what my life looks like. But the thoughts it ponders (and the whole book is a pondering – there are no answers, just insistent questions, over and over and over … I am sure the prose would drive some people nuts – but me? I eat this shit UP.) It’s not that the book told me what to think, it’s not that the book revealed to me a way of thinking that I responded to … No. It expressed how I already feel and think. In a way I have never seen before. So I suppose one way you could look at all of this is that I am an unbelievable narcissist. Of course I am. But I don’t just read to be entertained, or for escape – although often that is why I go to books. Other times, I read to stretch, to think, to grow, to deal with issues in my own life – but Hopeful Monsters stands alone, as a great and surging expression of truths and questions … like Rilke says, “Live the questions.” That’s what the book is about. Living the questions. Ted emailed me back this morning and said, “How do you write about a book that is about everything?” It is. It is about everything. It takes as its topic everything. War, politics, science, sex, religion, genetics, physics, Stalinism, agriculture, art, literature, socialism, the Spanish Civil War, Freudian psychoanalysis, the rise of Hitler, the upheavals of the 20th century – in all of these areas … and how the upheavals surge through the main characters’ lives. It goes from Germany to England to Spain to Russia to Africa to America, following events … one thing after another … It has a singular voice – a persistent questioning repetitive voice – Hopeful Monsters wants to know why. Hopeful Monsters wants to look beneath surface events and see what we are really saying. What are we really doing? It’s not that there are no easy answers. Sometimes the answers are quite easy – but knowing the answers does not make our lives easier. Sometimes truth is the most difficult thing of all. How to live with truth? How to live with the knowledge beneath things? How does one see so much and still just survive? How do you get through life without burning up? There’s a line in the book, something like: “It is the everything making sense that is so unbearable.”

It’s amazing to me, too, that the book is so obscure. Nicholas Mosley is so obscure that there is a literary prize with his name attached to it – and explanatory notes have to be given out to the press to explain who Nicholas Mosley is. Nicholas Mosley is the son of English fascist Oswald Mosley, who was married to Diana Mitford (my post about the Mitfords here). What a background. And to grow up to write such a book – with such an implicit indictment of his father’s ideas running through the book … Mosley (the son) has made no secret of his feelings about his father’s political opinions. As a matter of fact, Hopeful Monsters – with its sweeping course of intellectual inquiry and individualism and freedom – could be seen as the ultimate in a reply to his father.

The scariest thing is that I picked it up on a whim. I had just finished Possession (excerpt here) – another book that seemed to capture something very specific about my own life experience that had never quite been captured before: the challenge a cerebral person finds in falling in love. Love is not easy, especially when you are overloaded with context and literature and “this reminds me of that …” associations. Love is never just love. It is the history of love, and that poem, and that literary character, etc. Many people wouldn’t even understand what I’m talking about – and that’s fine – I suppose that’s why books that tackle such a challenge are few and far between. I felt named by Possession. I felt seen and recognized. I wasn’t ready to let it all go. I needed another big reading experience. And so I browsed in a Barnes & Noble. And for whatever reason (thank you, God, for leading me to this book!) I picked up Hopeful Monsters. I had never heard of it. I read the back cover:

Hopeful Monsters is a tour de force of intellect and eros – one in which Albert Einstein taunts a lecture hall full of Nazis and Ludwig Wittgenstein is an awkward guest at an English garden party. Like A.S. Byatt’s Possession, it is a love story, in which a young English physicist and a German-Jewish anthropologist pursue each other across landscapes that range from Hitler’s Germany to Los Alamos on the eve of the atomic age. Like the works of John Fowles and Umberto Eco, it is also a pyrotechnically accomplished novel of ideas, in which communism, psychoanalytic theory, uncertainty, and relativity attain visceral emotional force and help us understand the cataclysms of our century.

Can you say sign me up? First of all, there was the comparison with Possession, the book I had just read. So that had it in its favor. Also the phrase “novel of ideas” – which is such a turn-on for me, when it is done well.

And then, most superficially, there was the cover. Sadly, I cannot find any image of the cover of my copy of the book online. There are now new covers – and the book is pretty hard to find, in general. It’s rarely in book stores. And when it is, it doesn’t have the cover of the Vintage International copy I have. The cover has a photograph on it, a kind of blurry black-and-white photo of a statue, a female – her head raised to the sky – her hands placed in front of her – on her breast, and one held up in a gesture of, what, supplication? Resistance? (See, I’m writing like Nicholas Mosley now) It’s a stark image, mysterious – and when you read the book, it is not directly applicable. I love Vintage’s book covers – they come up with some awesome artistic ideas (the cover of Possession is a perfect example). They are not literal. And the cover of Hopeful Monsters called to me, for some reason. Even more so than the back cover description, and the comparison with Possession. It was the cover. It said to me, “This is big. A big book. Are you ready?” There have been times when I have literally shivered at the thought that it was a book cover that made me buy the book – it seems so ephemeral, so whimsical … to have discovered such a book by chance??

Of course, thinking about the plot of the book – it is only perfect that I would have discovered it by chance. Of course chance would have brought the book to me. That would be the only possible way.

There are two narrators in the book: Eleanor Anders, a German-Jewish girl and Max Ackerman, a British boy. They split the book up, chapter by chapter – telling their version of events. Most of the time they are apart, and so much of their story has to do with filling each other in, through the writing: “Here is what it was like for me before you came along …” “Here is what I did during that summer we never saw each other …” They talk to each other, too, referring back to the other’s chapters: “You said that such and such was going on with you at this time. Well, don’t you know that such and such was going on with me, too?’ Their encounters are few and far between, but soul-stirring. It is not about love. It is about recognition. You know when you are in the presence of a kindred soul. And sometimes, when that happens, it is best to just keep quiet. Don’t make any quick moves, don’t startle the universe … it hangs in the balance in such moments. The images are of Max and Eleanor, on opposite ends of a tightrope wire. Meanwhile, the world is exploding around them.

Eleanor grows up in Berlin. Her father is a philosophy professor at Berlin University, but he is most passionate about physics – especially the theories of Albert Einstein, who was at the University at that time. Her mother is a left-wing politician, who spends all of her time trying to organize the socialist revolution that is supposed to follow upon the heels of the world war (the first world war). Eleanor is 8 or 9 years old when WWI ends. She tries to interpret the events around her, her parents, their struggles. Her mother aligns herself with Rosa Luxemburg (the book is full of cameos: Einstein, Luxemburg, Hitler, Lysenko, Wittgenstein). Eleanor gets the sense that her father agrees with her mother’s opinions but disagrees in the manner in which she is going about it all. There is stress and strain. The first chapter takes place in the late teens and early 1920s. Eleanor describes, as from a great distance, her childhood at this time. We don’t know who she is talking to – but we know it is someone specific (Max doesn’t enter this chapter at all, he is having his own childhood over in England). The book opens with this stunner of a sentence:

If we are to survive in the environment we have made ourselves, may we have to be monstrous enough to greet our predicament?

There are multiple connections here, and Eleanor is not sure yet how it will all fit together: Communists, socialists, world war, the outrageous inflation in Germany, and the anti-Semitism which pierces to the surface now … and then, of course, there is Einstein’s work, the publishing of his special and general theories – and how her father gets totally caught up in it, and tries to explain it to his young daughter. Eleanor’s mother, more and more obsessed by her socialist political work, feels left out of this duo, and she resents it. She thinks every moment should be a fight. Then, of course, Rosa Luxemburg is murdered. And everything starts to fall apart. Eleanor is taken to see a lecture of Einstein’s – where he was heckled and booed by the audience. Eleanor’s father is German. Eleanor’s mother is Jewish. This will obviously have enormous implications in later chapters, the 1930s chapters. Eleanor’s mother is not “well”. She becomes obsessed, and unwell. She must live on her own, in a soup kitchen, and devote her life to politics. But she can’t seem to shake the feeling that something has gone wrong. Eleanor’s father, a philosopher at heart, loves his wife, but is too detached from such passions to take them seriously. Or no, that’s not right. It’s just that he thinks the lingo, the dogmatic political lingo thrown around by everyone in her group, is a way of hiding. Hiding what they are really doing, what they really want. This is my main beef with political junkies and partisan fanatics: they use a shorthand, code words, and it’s obvious what they mean … but if you want to talk about the underlying substance, those code words will come up short. Eleanor’s father cannot talk to Eleanor’s mother anymore. The lingo has taken hold, the language has hardened … and that, he, a man of questions and contemplation, cannot abide. But again: when Hitler takes power, all of this becomes academic.

It is also so important to remember (and learn, if you didn’t know) the context of those times – in Germany and elsewhere – when communists were seen as the only way to defeat Hitler – and world decisions were made because of this – and of course Hitler then went about crushing the communists – but it’s important to remember that in that particular moment, NOTHING was a done deal. Nobody could see the future. And Communism at that time did not equal Stalinism … (the book addresses that – when Max travels to Russia to study for a semester, the year of the famine in the Ukraine …) In Germany people were taking wheelbarrows of worthless money to buy a bottle of milk. Capitalism had seemed to have failed. And Hitler was a thug who needed to be crushed. They put up a damn good fight. In the post above about the Mitfords, someone showed up and made the following comment, about the ideological fight between Unity (the fascist MItford) and Decca (the communist Mitford):

The irony is that, at least in practice, that communism and facism aren’t really that far apart (both are authoritarian and socialist in nature.). Unity and Decca weren’t that far apart in their thinking (anymore than Stalin and Hitler were)….

My response to that comment was:

Of course – but you are saying that with the benefit of retrospect. We know this NOW. At the time, except to a few who remained above the fray, those similarities were not at all clear.

The Mitford parents were Hitler supporters because he had crushed the Communists in Germany – suppressed them and persecuted them – and the Mitfords were all for that. The Communists at that time were extremely attractive for those who wanted to fight against everything Hitler represented. Hitler was the enemy. The Communist Parties (at least those not in Russia – Russia who was experiencing Stalin’s purges at that very moment and knew where all this communistic stuff led) were alternatives to what Anne Lindbergh called “the wave of the future” – which was fascism. The end result did end up being the same – but again – on the ground-level, in the middle of the whirlwind, as World War II approached, esPECIALLY for the British, this was not at all clear.

If the distinctions were oh-so-clear, then why did folks like Orwell and Arthur Koestler (post about him and his Darkness at Noon here) famously switch sides? You must incorporate history in, well, history – otherwise you are just another boring hack with an axe to grind.

Mosley writes about that particular moment in time – the convergence of ideologies and war and politics – the personal, the political, the scientific – the world of his actual father and his stepmother … all seen through the eyes of a 9 year old girl.

Trying to talk about what this book is about is difficult … and trying to list plot-points feels insane to me.

It is more like a wave, the tide rolling in, submerging you, and then rolling out, leaving the shore exposed, rolling back in, rolling back out. Max and Eleanor do not have different voices. Their lives are different – but they speak with one voice. And their paths converge – much later – and then separate – for many years – and then converge again … endlessly … and you know, as I grow older, and move further away from my past … Hopeful Monsters is more and more how I experience life. The past is never really past. It flows alongside us, maybe an alternate universe (Eleanor and her father love sci-fi comic books, all about time travel, and wondrous monstrous other worlds – they imagine that the sofa they sit on is an “airship”, and they can float above these other worlds, looking down, curious, on how other creatures live …) … we can dip into it, we can re-visit it … or we can say, “You know what? No thanks.” Either choice. It’s up to us.

I will need to do a couple excerpts from this one.

When all is said and done, I think it might be the most important book I have ever read. It is always near me. It never makes it up onto the shelf, where it sits on its place for years before I pick it up again. It is always out, on a table, in my bag, on my dresser … I see different things in it, every time I read it. Sometimes it is about the hopelessness of love. Yet the essential-ness of the experience. Sometimes it is about the clash between communism and capitalism, and what that meant for the individuals involved in the crucial years of th 1930s. Sometimes it is about scientific inquiry – as applied to love – which man, I relate to! It’s always different. When that “what 5 books would you bring if you were stranded on a desert island” question comes up – sometimes I choose one book over another, sometimes I realize, “Oh no, I have to bring THIS book – how could I have forgotten it??” – but I NEVER forget Hopeful Monsters. It is always Numero Uno on the “desert island” question.

In Hopeful Monsters, Nicholas Mosley writes:

I thought – oh strange and terrible world, you should not be destroyed! There are people whom you can love and who love you – Just let us know, every now and then, what might be an ark.

To me, Hopeful Monsters is its own ark. It is my ark. It has everything in it that I need, and will ever need.

I was dreading writing about Hopeful Monsters, but I find it didn’t come out so bad. Let’s get to the excerpt. This is from Eleanor’s first chapter – the “childhood in Berlin” chapter.

EXCERPT FROM Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley

It is relevant to put in here (relevant I mean in the way that this comes up in memory, relevant in the way that these occurrences were roughly coincidental in fact) what I remember of the conversations I used to have with my father when we were not reading stories: these conversations having begun around the time when the group with Rosa Luxemburg came looking for a hiding-place in our apartment; their subject also being to do with what my father talked to the young man and girl about at supper.

Sometimes when I sat with my father on the sofa in his study and he had been reading to me stories or articles about science from children’s magazines, I would, at the end of whatever voyage of discovery or imagination we had been on (I was, I suppose, quite a precocious little girl) ask my father about the work he was doing at the university. He told me something of his regular work of lecturing and teaching, but I do not remember much about this. Then he told me of the work that really interested him at this time, which was outside his regular curriculum, and was to do with his efforts to understand, and to put into some intelligible language, the theories that were being propounded about physics at this time by one of his colleagues at the university – a Professor Einstein. I do not think that my father knew Einstein very well, but he venerated him, and he was enough of a mathematician to be able to try to grapple with some of his theories. I, of course, could have comprehended little of the substance of what my father said: but because of his enthusiasm it was as if, on some level, I was caught up in his efforts. I had a picture of Professor Einstein as some sort of magician: there was a photograph of him on the chimney-piece of my father’s study which was a counter-balance to my mother’s photograph of Karl Marx on the chimney-piece of the dining-room. Professor Einstein’s head, set rather loosely on his shoulders, seemed to have a life of its own: Karl Marx’s head seemed to have been jammed down on to his shoulders with a hammer. I would say to my father as we sat above the wonders of the world in our airship “What is it that is so special about the theories of Professor Einstein?”

My father said ‘Shall I try to explain?’

I said ‘I like hearing you talk. It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand.’

This was the time – the winter of 1918-19 – when Einstein had recently published his paper concerning the General Theory of Relativity (the papers concerning the Special Theory had been published some years previously), but the conjectures put forward in the General Theory had not yet been verified. Nothing in these theories had yet much caught the public imagination: people seemed not to be ready for such images as they might evoke. But my father had become obsessed with trying to make intelligible an interpretation of the General Theory: it was this, he said, that should alter people’s ideas about the universe and about themselves.

My father said ‘All right, I’ll try to tell you. I’m not sure, anyway, just what it means to understand.’

I think my father had already tried to explain – usually more to himself in fact than to me – the Special Theory of Relativity. I remember the phrases about there being no absolute space nor absolute time: my space is my space; your time is yours; if I am travelling at a certain speed in relation to you it might as well be you who are travelling at a certain speed in relation to me; the only thing that is absolute is the speed of light. The speed of light is constant no matter if it arises from this or that travelling hither or thither: if there seem to be contradictions, these are because the measuring devices themselves get bigger or smaller and not the speed of light. I do not suppose I grasped the latter idea: but I do not think I found it difficult to see the idea of each person, each observer or group, having his or her or its own world: was not this, after all, what I had come to feel about the people in the streets, my mother’s friends, her cousins in the country? I felt sometimes that I understood even about the absoluteness of the speed of light – was not this something that my father and I felt ourselves in touch with as we looked down on all these separate worlds from the superworld of our airship?

I said ‘You are going to tell me about the new thing, the General Theory.’

My father said ‘Ah!’

There are two or three particular and personalised images that stick in my mind from my father’s efforts to explain to me, aged nine, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. These images arose from the conjecture that light itself had weight, so that it could be bent or pulled in the proximity of matter by what used to be called ‘gravity’: that if there is enough matter in the universe (which Einstein thought there was) then space itself would be bent or curved – and it would be just such curvature that could properly be called gravity. The particular images suggested by my father that have stuck in my mind are, firstly, of a small group of people standing back to back on a vast and lonely plain; they are looking outwards; they are trying to see something other than just their surroundings and themselves. But they can never by the nature of things see anything outside the curve of their own universe, since gravity pulls their vision back (my father drew a diagram of this) so that it comes on top of them again like falling arrows. The second image is that of a single person on this vast and lonely plain who has constructed an enormously powerful telescope; by this he hopes to be able to break at last out of the bonds of his own vision; he looks through it; he sees – what appears to be a new star! Then he realises that what he is looking at is the back of his own head – or the place where his head now is billions of years ago, or in the future, or whatever. Anyway, here he is now with the light from him or to him having gone right round the universe and himself never being able to see any further than the back of his own head. But then there was a third image that my father gave me, different in kind from the others: which is of gravity being like the effect of two people sitting side by side on an old sofa so that the springs sag and they are drawn together in the middle: and there were my father and I sitting side by side on the sofa in his study.

I would say to my father ‘But is this true?’

My father said ‘Mathematically, it seems to be true.’

‘But is it really?’

‘Ah, what is really!’

I would think – But together, might not my father and I get beyond the backs of our heads in our airship?

Sometimes when my father and I had our arms around one another sitting like this my mother would put her head round the door of his study and say ‘Are you coming?’

My father would say ‘Coming where?’

‘To supper.’

“Ah yes, supper.’

Then my mother would perhaps advance into the room and say ‘What have you two been doing?’


‘It didn’t sound like talking to me!’

‘Thinking then.’

‘Do you have to sit like that when you think?’

And I would think – Oh do let us get through, yes, into some other dimension!

It was such conversations I had with my father that seemed relevant to the evening when the group of people round Rosa Luxemburg had been in our apartment (they being like the people on the vast and lonely plain) and when the young man and the girl stayed for supper.

My mother had gone to argue with Magda in the kitchen. Helga was banging plates down on the sideboard in the dining-room. My father had said to the girl, who was quite pretty, ‘What is your subject?’ The girl had said ‘Physics.’ My father had said ‘Then we will have a lot to talk about!’ And I wondered why my father was not talking more to me.

My father said to the young man ‘What do you do?’

The young man said ‘My subject is philosophy but at the moment I am occupied in politics.’

My father said, as he so often said ‘Ah.’

During supper my father sat at the head of the table: I sat on one side of him and the young man on the other: the girl sat next to the young man. I remember the atmosphere, the style, of this supper quite well – perhaps because it was almost the first time I had been allowed up so late; out of deference, I suppose, to the tensions of the evening. Whoever remembers the exact words of conversations? but I imagine I can recreate the style, the attitudes of my father.

He said to the girl ‘What do you know of the theories of Professor Einstein?’

The girl, who had a scraping voice that did not go with her soft squashed face, said ‘I understand they have not been verified.’

My father said ‘What do you think might count as verification?’

The girl said ‘I understand verification is unlikely.’

My father turned to the young man who had small steel pince-nez from which a black ribbon hung down. My father said ‘And what is the opinion of a philosopher or a politician on these matters?’

The young man said ‘I think these are matters for scientists and mathematicians.’

My father said ‘Should not a philosopher have ideas or opinions about what might be called reality?’

The young man said ‘It is the job of philosophers to clarify concepts. IT is the job of scientists to uncover facts.’

My father said ‘But are not concepts seen to be of the same nature as facts?’

The young man said ‘And it is the job of politicians to separate practical sense from nonsense, which is the tool of exploitation.’

My father said ‘I see.’ He used to say ‘I see’ when he was disappointed; this was slightly different from when he said ‘Ah!’

At some such moment in this conversation my mother came in; she banged plates about with Helga or Magda at the sideboard. She said ‘It might make more sense to talk about the practical difficulties of getting the materials for this soup.’

The young man said ‘Indeed.’

The girl said ‘I’m sorry.’

My mother said ‘It is not your fault.’

My father raised his eyebrows; he seemed to be hoping he might take off, as if he were a rocket.

My mother sat down at the other end of the table. Helga handed round the soup. After a time my mother said ‘Some people do not seem to realise that even at this moment there are people being killed in the streets.’

My father picked up his napkin, put it down, looked at the girl, looked at the young man, looked at me. I thought – Well, you did not put your arms around me: what am I supposed to do alone in our airship?

Then my father said to my mother ‘But haven’t you been looking forward to the time when people would be killed in the streets? Haven’t you said that the revolution could not come until there were people being killed in the streets?’

My mother said ‘That is an insult!’ She banged her knife and fork down on the table.

I thought I might now join in by saying – But didn’t you want my father to protect this young man and the girl by saying that they were two of his students at the university?

My mother went out of the room. We could hear her talking, or crying, with Magda in the kitchen.

The girl said to my father ‘Don’t you care?’

My father raised his eyebrows; gazed at a corner of the ceiling.

The young man said ‘In my opinion, the scientific reality is that there is this repression of the masses.’

My father said ‘I see.’

After a time the girl said ‘Excuse me, I will go and see if your wife is all right.’ She left the room.

We sat at the table and drank our soup – my father, the young man with the pince-nez and myself. I thought – Oh yes, our various visions, like arrows, are going out and coming crashing round on to the backs of our own heads.

Then – But it is true that my mother must have had difficulty in getting the materials for the soup?

After a time the young man said ‘But the masses have the real power according to the iron laws of history.’

My father said ‘Then for God’s sake join them.’

The young man stood up and bowed and went out – presumably to join my mother and the girl and Helga and Magda in the kitchen.

I thought – So now, yes, my father and I are alone in our airship.

My father sat staring at a corner of the ceiling. I thought – But it is all right, it is all right, even if there are things one does not understand and cannot say: is not this what you have taught me?

Eventually a bed was made for the young man in the drawing-room; the girl was to sleep on the floor of my room.

Sometimes during the night people did in fact come knocking at the door of our apartment; I heard my father going to answer the door; he was calm, authoritative; after a time the people who had knocked went away. What my father had said was that there was no one in the apartment except his family and servants; he could give his assurance on this point on the authority of his position at the university. I was in my bed with the girl beside me on a mattress on the floor. I was thinking – Well what does one understand? What is truth? What is authority? What is caring for others, in this lonely business of our airship?

This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Books: “Hopeful Monsters” (Nicholas Mosley)

  1. The Books: “Hopeful Monsters” (Nicholas Mosley)

    I emailed Ted this morning, because it was time to pick up Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley, for my Daily Book Excerpt – and this was the next book on my adult fiction shelves and I was freaked out. Ted…

  2. ted says:

    I’d say it came out pretty good! This so makes me want to read this book again. I think part of my attraction to it is my roots in between-the-wars Germany and the way Mosely lays bare the roots of the intellectual, political, scientific changes that rocked our world in the last century and are still rocking it!
    I like your Vintage edition cover much better than mine! That’s funny about your dad’s reaction. I bought my mom a copy and she had the same reaction. I Also have a hardcover first American edition which says on it Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year. I also have a bunch of softcover editions of some of his other books (Serpent and Imago Bird) which I picked up at a used bookshop in London, they both say on the covers “by the author of Hopeful Monsters.” So the book must have carried currency with someone! I think this kind of book is very out of fashion now. It is book of critical thinking and makes the reader work their ass off. It is so not simple and packaged for our “enjoyment.” I appreciate that about him. I’ve read at least one of his books – Children of Darkness and Light – where I’ve come out of them scratching my head and thinking – huh? But if things are contradictory and yet exist side by side, he places them side by side and tries relentlessly to create a fictional world where we can see the connections he sees.
    I never knew who Moseley’s parents were! So he really was a man with a mission – as if his writing had ever indicated anything else!. That give me some real insight. Great post!!

  3. red says:

    But if things are contradictory and yet exist side by side, he places them side by side and tries relentlessly to create a fictional world where we can see the connections he sees.

    Yes, yes, yes!! And instead of grappling for a final solution (pun intended) – he lets the contradictions stand. And he sees that as a metaphor for everything – isn’t there a whole bit late in the book, the Los Alamos section, about the light is a wave/particle debate … it isn’t either/or – it is both – inherently contradicting … but beautiful in its simplicity nonetheless. It all depends on the observer’s stance and expectations. Which is certainly a way I have experienced life from time to time … When I have been “observed” (another way to say: “in love”) – I have felt changed. By the mere act of being observed. It is like on a molecular level I am experiencing the truth of things – I don’t know, Mosley says it so much better.

    I am so thrilled you read and loved this book too. Didn’t you give it to Lee, and he loved it too?

    It does make you think – but I do not find it opaque or unnecessarily difficult. It’s just that Mosley ponders things, and deeply, for 500 pages or however long it is. And to get into that stance is sometimes a challenge.

    Middlemarch (another book I adore) is similar. It is about the characters in that one town – but it is really about the upheavals in England in the 19th century – the trains, the educational upheavals, the financial changes, class shifting … there are times when George Eliot, the narrator, interjects herself – in an omniscent way (reminiscent of the first sentence of Hopeful Monsters – and many other sentences) … We are immersed in the everyday life of the characters and then suddenly we are on a satellite, circling the earth, looking down on all.

    I LOVE that kind of writing – when it’s done well. I really stretch and grow.

    I’ll be doing more excerpts – this should be fun!!

  4. Ted says:

    I’m not sure if I gave it to Lee or if he read it independently of me, but it’s definitely been a point in common ever since. Middlemarch is actually on my list for a re-read this summer.

    Yes, final solution indeed, because explaining away the contradiction is killing it on some level. It’s not necessary to make peace between everything. It’s one reason I can be impatient with those who cannot stand for an opinion and argue it. It’s not necessarily better or even ‘nicer’ to just agree with everything or to compromise simply to avoid any and all conflict. Coexistence through struggle, when the thing is worth struggling for, is necessary and valuable and beautiful.

  5. The Books: “Hopeful Monsters” (Nicholas Mosley)

    Next book on my adult fiction bookshelf: This will be my fourth excerpt from Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley. First excerpt Second excerpt Third excerpt Max takes over the narrative in Chapter 4. He and Eleanor have met, and then…

  6. Karen says:

    Thank-you for expressing that.

    I read Hopeful Monsters years ago and it shook me and changed me profoundly – and lastingly.

    Maybe it’s the reason I later left my life on a hunch, moved to Prague and married the man I was certain I’d meet. Crazy? Well, hopeful. Or crazily hopeful. Certainly the book gave me some kind of nudge to change everything.

    This is a very important book that was swept under the carpet in part because of the awkwardness of the author being a Mosley. I’m glad that at least some people are still finding it.

    Thanks again.

  7. Andrei Rublev; dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

    Not much is known about Andrei Rublev, the 15th century Russian monk – who was also a painter. Only one of his works has been actually authenticated (the Trinity, seen above) – but he has taken on mythical status…

  8. naz says:

    if we are to create an environment entirely for ourselves, are we monsterous enough to greet our predicament?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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