OFF THE SHELF: Books will a-maze

The labyrinth ––best known as the elaborate maze that imprisoned the bloodthirsty half-man, half-bull Minotaur–– has a long history. 

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. 

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. 

The labyrinth ––best known as the elaborate maze that imprisoned the bloodthirsty half-man, half-bull Minotaur–– has a long history.

It was designed to permit no escape. The Minotaur would simply wander its twisting, turning corridors forever, or until slain by some brave hero.

For medieval thinkers, the labyrinth became a symbol of pilgrimage and salvation, while modern conceptions resemble the Minotaur’s prison –– infinitely complex, a maze of mirrors without end. In this labyrinth, the distinction between reality and imagination becomes unclear.

Readers seeking a dense, labyrinth experience will find plenty of turns to navigate in these five books.

–– The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell.

Obsession surrounds the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a 15th century manuscript, since it is rumored to contain codes that reveal the location of a buried treasure.

As four Princeton University students begin to unravel secrets held for centuries hidden in a labyrinth of riddles, the campus becomes the site of mystery, death, and literary detection.

–– The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Revolving around a maze of a house, the novel recounts the history of the Trueba family.

Their house, classical in style, is meant to be the pride of the neighborhood, but it reflects many a dark family secret in its strange design, full of twisted stairways leading nowhere, crooked hallways, and leaning turrets.

Using ravishing language and keenly observed setting and characters, Allende dramatizes the political and class conflict of 20th century Chile.

–– Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

Kublai Khan isn’t sure that he understands correctly as Marco Polo chronicles his travels to cities of chain and concentric canal, of leaden streets, crystal theaters, and sweet marjoram cooked in the streets.

Marco Polo could be recounting his dreams, his imaginings, or his native Venice, over and over, one snapshot after another.

It’s up to Kublai Khan ––and the reader–– to untangle dream from reality in this travel tale of language play and imagery.

––  Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman.

In 1905 in Berne, Switzerland, Albert Einstein is on the cusp of developing his theory of relativity, and he is working out the kinks in his dreams.

Lightman’s novel is a collection of these dreams, each of which dramatizes the unusual passage of time.  In one dream, time runs backward; in another, time is gained by moving more quickly.  In this tangled world, time behaves in unexpected ways, and the world is shaped accordingly.  There is no predicting how things “ought to be.”

–– Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

When Richard Mayhew plays the Good Samaritan, stopping to help Door, a threatened rag girl, he falls through the cracks from London Above to London Below – a maze of tunnels, hidden passageways, and dead ends where time has no meaning.

In this dark underworld, Richard questions the reality of his own existence and wonders if he will ever find his way again to London Above.

––  Parts of this column originally appeared in Library Journal. Maureen Curry is the chief librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.