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Machine Hardcover – Jun 1 2008
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a masterfully metaphysical narrative worthy of Pynchon Irish Times Books of the Year
About the Author
Peter Adolphsen was born in 1972 in Arhus, Denmark and has written Sma historier (1996), Sma historier 2 (2000), Brummstein (2003). Machine was published in Denmark in 2006. He is currently working on two projects, En million historier and Katalognien. His books are translated into German, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This very short novel starts 55 million years ago when a storm frightens a herd of prehistoric horses no bigger than fox terriers. One of these was a five-year-old mare who gets separated from the others and injured. Although she survives one night alone and hurt, she falls again into a muddy river the next day, and this time she dies. Over millions of years the river changes: it dries up, and the body of the little mare is covered with tons of sediment, which turn to rock, her own body changing to oil.
Fast forward to 1973 when a young Azerbaijani named Djamolidine Hasanov (or Jimmy Nash, as he is now known) is working on an oil pipeline in the Uinta Basin of Utah. He was born in Baku in 1948 and as a child was an avid and somewhat successful competitive cyclist for his national team. But he longed to escape the Soviet Union, and his athletic abilities helped earn him passage to the United States. One day an accident at work blows his arm off.
Clarissa Sanders is a 22-year-old biology student in Texas when she picks up Jimmy hitchhiking. They spend the afternoon together taking LSD and eating snacks. Since she was seven, Clarissa had had a fear of dying and a fear of going insane, so she had no desire to take drugs. However, when Jimmy held out to her the small square of paper soaked in acid, she impulsively accepted.
Later that day, her car's exhaust pipe released its emissions into the air, and one speck was caught in a spider's web. That speck of soot will find its way into Clarissa's throat and eventually transform her body. A witness to this change in Clarissa is a young neighbor whose life will be impacted, as were Jimmy's and Clarissa's, by the oil that was once the beating heart of an animal.
Woven into this story is the science that make everything happen --- from life and death, to the creation of oil from living matter, to the brain on drugs and the combustion of a car engine. In fact, the majority of the book is concerned with these dry (yet fascinating) scientific details. Readers find out less about the characters of the book than about the processes that shape them. Still, we learn that Jimmy writes haiku and that Clarissa has full confidence in science as a problem-solver. Adolphsen also interjects some interesting tangents on subjects such as ethnic/linguistic/cultural identity, American advertising and Mormon history.
MACHINE is an odd novel: an experiment in style and content. It is vast in its subject yet extremely concise, and the story it tells is often obscured by the method of telling itself. Adolphsen plays with the Chaos Theory and the idea of coincidence, unpacking these complex ideas with rapid speed. Life and death, oil and identity, and over 55 million years in less than 100 pages may not seem possible. But Adolphsen's attempt is admirable, interesting and sometimes even beautiful.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
Adolphsen plays with the idea of Chaos Theory and coincidence throughout the novel tying what seems like a series of highly improbable events into a single narrative history told in unique almost omnipresent first person. Throughout the narrative Adolphsen is preoccupied with the science that makes these series of events happen from life and death, to the creation of oil from living matter, to the brain on drugs and the combustion of a car engine. In fact, the majority of the book is concerned with these in my estimation fascinating scientific details. What you'll find with Machine is a novel less concerned about the characters and their individual story, instead the focus is more about the external processes that shape them that constantly apart of their lives but largely unnoticed. I realize that all the precise scientific detail and jargon might come off as a bit dry and boring, and is not seamlessly integrated with the story as some would like, but I found Machine to be interestingly straightforward and at times beautifully written book exploring big ideas in a way fictional setting that I understood. It certainly isn't a book for everyone, but I'll definitely be rereading this one again
"Death exists, but only in a practical, macroscopic sense. Biologically one cannot distinguish between life and death; the transition is a continuum. [...] The problem of defining death mirrors a corresponding difficulty with the definition of life: a living organism is formed of non-living material, organized so it can absorb energy to maintain its system, and death is thus the irreversible cessation of these functions."
Translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund, MACHINE is a short novella that explores life, death and transformation via the path of a drop of crude oil -- from its origins 55-million years ago in the decaying heart of a tiny prehistoric horse, through refinement to gasoline and into the tank of a 1970s car carrying a man and woman, and then... well you'll have to read it and I wager you'll be surprised.
It's a ping-pong of ideas, scientific and philosophical -- an essay (a tutorial at times) clothed in a fragmented, fable-like story. I'm not a fan of fables, but I am a fan of ideas and of short-form writing, and found MACHINE interesting to read. I will read more by Adolphsen.
What I can say that it has style and form.
Was it worth reading?
Following the souls or hearts of dawn horses
through a series of modern events
does seem to have interest
and is a unique approach to the development
of the world?
I,for one, question the motives of such a spirit guide.