Review of Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolfe

Sequel to Wolfe’s bizarre The Borrowed Man. Both orchestrated typical sleights of hand on my psyche. 

It is possible to get immersed in the surface-level narrative of a man who gets checked out from the library which is his institution of residence as a re-cloned mystery writer. Adventure ensures. But it is also possible you will fail to care for the seemingly inconsequential universe Wolfe has crafted in this one. However, the subtext, occasionally impenetrable, is strangely lacking in epic scale here. This side effect has occurred in me before, and the only remedy is rereading the book.

When Faulkner was asked what someone should do if they read his book twice and didn’t understand it, that author replied they should read it a third time. I would advise most people to practice the same exercise upon Wolfe’s books, if they have the patience. Nonetheless, there was a mythic quality to the latter part of the Borrowed Man not quite present here – perhaps merely suggested, like background radiation – and though it is entertaining to follow the quirky characters, the world they inhabit is a tad colder, less infused with the sinister undercurrent of a science fiction mythos. Any addition to the Wolfe canon is invaluable, so I was pleased to read this book, even if it could have gone further and done more. I still recommend it over Pandora. I’m glad Wolfe didn’t dabble too much in Noir, though to say he dabbled at all is grossly incorrect. I’m forever an incurable, raving fan of the author. You may want to consider checking this one out (pun intended) instead of buying. Since I have 35 books in my Gene Wolfe collection I’m tempted to get it for closure. Let us all mourn the passing of S-f’s grandmaster of dense world building and architecturally stunning storytelling.

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