My first of two posts for the read-along of The Discovery of Heaven organized by Iris on Books for the Month of Dutch Literature. This post refers to the book’s first two sections: The Beginning of the Beginning and the End of the beginning.
(Caricature of Harry Mulisch, who died in 2010, in Heaven – “I’d say the book is better”. Credits)
The Discovery of Heaven has recently been voted the “Best Dutch Book Ever”. It turns out it can be considered Fantasy and I might go as far as to call it Urban Fantasy. Although I never read it, The Master & Margarita came to mind several times – did anyone in the read-along? Are there similarities?
God in all His wisdom has decided to take back the Ten Commandments Tablets. To do so, some of his heavenly disciples come up with an ingenious (albeit far-fetched) plan: create a human who is special enough to find the Tablets and return them to their proper owner. To do this, these Angels (?) need to subtly steer a specific man and woman together to create the necessary baby.
At the beginning of each of the book’s four parts there’s a conversation between these two beings and we can understand a bit about what is going on behind the scenes. The rest of the story is about the lives of the people these Angels are manipulating for their purposes, in particular Onno, a brilliant linguist, Max, an equally brilliant astronomer and Ada, a cellist.
I’ve been thinking about what I would write down in this post and could only come up with more or less unrelated thoughts, so expect a somewhat disjointed post.
So far, I’m enjoying it although sometimes it becomes a bit “wordy”. I hate using that word, but I really cannot think of any other that applies. I got the feeling Mulisch wanted us to appreciate how deeply he thought about high matters like religion and science. This is especially noticeable during the dialogues between Onno and Max.
About those dialogues, overall they’re interesting and insightful but there’s no way two people ever talked like that all the time. Not even if Aristotle and Nietzsche were best buddies. But I could tell Mulisch had fun writing them, as if they’re conversations he was having with himself. I can just picture him chuckling by himself over his coffee and cheese sandwich (maybe with some licorice for dessert?).
The Discovery of Heaven is a very “intellectual” novel and my little grey cells were tickled by the connections Mulisch makes between mathematics, science, religion, politics and music. With this in mind, it’s intriguing the amount of telenovela-worthy stuff going on…
I was also happy to see that among the highbrow ideas, Mulisch didn’t find it beneath himself to add a dose of pop-culture. In particular, I loved a conversation about HAL 2000:
Onno asked why Max thought the computer was called HAL. Because of the association with “hell”, suggested Max. Damn, Onno hadn’t thought of that.But suppose Max counted one letter on from H, A, and L in the alphabet.
“I”, said Max, “B, M. IBM!” he cried. “I take my hat off to you, sir!”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to completely take over this idea and present it as my own in my next geek conversation
Two last thoughts:
The book was first published in 1992 and this first half is set in the 60s but somehow it feels dated. It’s as if it was really written in the 60s. Haven’t figured out if that a good or bad thing.
I wish the female characters were a bit more developed. He takes great care with Onno and Max and part of them are probably auto-portraits, but I’m sorry to see he didn’t invest as much in Ada or her mother.
I still have another 350 pages to go in the book, but I can already feel a big old predestination/free will debate coming our way, am I right? It’s the type of book I wish I was dissecting in a class. What’s the use of big ideas if you can’t discuss them? Iris: good call in making this a read-along, I’m looking forward to see what everyone else is thinking.