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A Spy in the Ruins Paperback – June 7, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A sprawling experimental novel . . . a torrent of dazzling imagery . . . a blend of romanticism and high-modernist technique . . . patient readers will . . . be rewarded with startling poetic epiphanies and psychological insights. --Kirkus Reviews

Magnificent . . . a daring enterprise ... I think it the best American novel I have read since those of Thomas Pynchon and William Gass-- Juan Goytisolo, author of Count Julian and The Blind Rider<br /><br />... oneiric ... cinematic ... --George Steiner<br /><br />I admire the appetites [expressed in A Spy in the Ruins]. -- Ben Marcus, author of The Age of Wire and String<br /><br />Since James Joyce s Ulysses simultaneously destroyed, liberated and complicated the form of the novel, writers have been in a stew to know how to proceed. Christopher Bernard's ambitious, complex 'anti-novel' is an invasion of Joycean territory with banners waving and sentences aflame.... A Spy in the Ruins is a book for those who cherish consciousness and who wonder whatever happened to it. It is not for the faint of criticism ... but for those who can breathe its air, it offers a bird's eye view of our vexed, complicated, technomiserable civilization.Jack Foley, author of The Dancer and the Dance
--Goytisolo, Steiner, Marcus

Novelistic ambitions being what they are these days, it is no wonder that long works of fiction from America's best and brightest tend to slide toward marketable flights of genre fantasy (Caleb Carr, Elizabeth Kostova) or barbed middle-class dissection (Jonathan Franzen) as opposed to the sprawling, mind-clenching post-modernism of Pynchon, or the cross-cultural post-realism of Rushdie, or (still) Garcia Marquez. In America, the pressure for the movie-saleable commodity, however well-wrought (think Philip Roth, even) seems to pervade our multimedia perspectives.
Which makes Christopher Bernard s A Spy in the Ruins ... a rarity, perhaps, but also a return to form to the notion of the novel as that wide-open, thorny canvas of consciousness that Joyce and Woolf envisioned and enacted: not a novel of ideas so much as the novel as pure ideation breathing, spawning, crystal-lizing, and coalescing, ultimately, into something akin to Eliot s conceit about squeezing the universe into a ball. A novel, in other words, that is ambitious enough to defy adaptation.
Bernard s magnum opus, at more than 500 pages, is certainly shadowed by modernism s Big Books and Big Ideas, and its brash, page-one homage to the world-wrecking jolt that opens Finnegans Wake announces that it too will wrestle with the apocalyptic gesture that, when you think about it, only the novel can aspire to, free of the fixation on visual expression that continues to circumscribe all efforts at ultimatism in a hyper-visual society.
In its way, Bernard s ambitiousness is Homeric Iliadic and Odyssyean in suggesting that only prose-poetry can fuse immediacy of mind to the structures of narrative, and so Bernard goes all out, with liberated prose that slithers and shape-shifts on the page like the staff of Moses set down to snake before Pharoah. Sentences writhe, unrestricted, yet the organic center holds, and the result is frequently radiant, resolving in metaphor and tragic epiphany that dare the reader not to share the rue.... --Matt Damsker

About the Author

Christopher Bernard is a poet and playwright, author of "The Dilettante of Cruelty: Deserts" (poetry), "Gilded Abattoir: Wreckage from a Journey" (poetry and prose), and such plays as "Fellow Traveler," ""Our Lady of Cries, and "A Sonata for the Dead." He has published in Another Chicago Magazine, Permafrost, Ekphrasis and the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Chicago Tribune, and other periodicals and literary magazines. His plays have been produced and radio broadcast in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a cofounder of the literary and arts magazine Caveat Lector and lives in San Francisco.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 543 pages
  • Publisher: Regent Press (June 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587901110
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587901119
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,895,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
A SPY IN THE RUINS is at once an enigma, a threatening reading feat, a challenging intellectual excursion, and, in the end, one of the most satisfying reading experiences in many years. Christopher Bernard has the gift of blending words, phrases, fragments, imagery, time lapses, free association thinking and a facility with the English language that is nothing short of extraordinary!

No names here in this liquid prose, no signposts to jar the flow of the narrative/stream of consciousness, nothing to get in the way of simply absorbing some of the most eloquent, dire, ecstatic, devastating, and remarkably cogent writing imaginable.
Perhaps it is the fact that we as a nation are undergoing such shattering natural and unnatural disasters at this moment that makes Bernard's 'story' so exceedingly gripping. Perhaps. But in ways never used before, Bernard conveys a catastrophic destruction of a city (not unlike Katrina's or Rita's venom) leaving behind a sole wanderer who is the 'spy' in these ruins. Through his eyes and memory and suspended state of being he relives his life as it was, as it could have been, as he would have wanted it - finding bits and fragments of memory and metaphor to piece together that is now gone. Cosmos craving recreation out of chaos and throughout it all is a searing obsession with finding love in all its forms.

Just when the reader thinks that this long volume of wildly imaginative thoughts and sentences and portions thereof are not meant to be anything but the exquisite poetry they are to read, the story line evolves and suddenly we know this lone man, feel his alienation, fly with his fantasies/delusions/memories/expectations, and a very clear story assembles before our eyes.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By P. L. H. on December 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
Why, when this span of life might be passed

as a laurel, slightly darker than everything else

green, with tiny waves on the edges

of each leaf (like the wind's smile) -: why then

have to be human - and, fleeing destiny,

long for destiny? ...

--from Rilke, The Ninth Elegy

Some time after reading Mr. Bernard's novel for the first time, I read E. Snow's translation of Rilke's Duino Elegies, where I kept hearing echoes or reflections of the former work. I don't have the time or expertise to lay my finger on the resemblance: perhaps it is that they both feel topical even while somewhat old fashioned in their intensity. Perhaps it is that they both play with images of country and city, past and future, or that they both partake of an old conversation about Ideal and Actual. Perhaps it is that the language and images in both are the eternal stuff of great poetry.

But A Spy in the Ruins is different in one respect. It's a spellbinding tale, a good yarn, and funny.

Others have spoken to the novel's literary and social significance, so I'll let these and other bright spots go. What made this an extraordinary read for me was the word play and the sheer fun of the diction, but what was truly unexpected was the fierce grip of the story.

I wanted to read it all slowly, to relish the language as I would a late Henry James. But over and over I found myself hurrying to the next page as if it were a good thriller, a "real page-turner." Sure, the self-referential narration periodically disrupts the transparency of the narrative, putting everyone in place - narrator, characters, reader. But then you move from this self-awareness (I am in this chair, holding a book) to a complete immersion in the story.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Wordsworth on September 18, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Spy is a work of lyrical virtuosity with a unique narrative style in which prose and poetry divinely blend into "stream of dream". The story line is original and compelling and crafted with a sensibility in the writing that in places left me awestruck. The writing was sensitive, vivid, layered, intelligent, textured, inspired, deeply felt and profound on many different levels. The story takes place amid the backdrop of a wasteland in the ruins of war and can be read at that narrative level. More deeply, the story is about a man caught up in the ruins of his life trying to remember and understand times of innocence and decision and love that have brought him to this point. The innovative writing style, as some have said, harks back somewhat to Joyce but even more so to the existential prose of Samuel Beckett. The writing is so skillfully wrought that it's the many passages on dozens of pages, which I underlined, where the transcendent prose ascends into a higher plane to truly lyrical poetry that I will remember and re-read. The net effect is a stream of dream narrative technique that builds upon stream of consciousness with a truly original, ethereal and intensely personal and vivid writing style. If you are an intelligent reader of literary novels, then you absolutely must read this watershed novel for there is genius in this book. Spy is one of the finest literary novels I've read in years and delivers a literary legacy that should be read slowly, savoured and treasured. I was absolutely blown away by the power and sensitivity manifest in this great novel, which measures well against the benchmark of some of America's truly great literary novels. I can't wait to read his next book.
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