Crossings
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Crossings

Alex Landragin

I didn’t write this book. I stole it…

A Parisian bookbinder stumbles across a manuscript containing three stories, each as unlikely as the other.

The first, ‘The Education of a Monster’, is a letter penned by the poet Charles Baudelaire to an illiterate girl. The second, ‘City of Ghosts’, is a noir romance set in Paris in 1940 as the Germans are invading. The third, ‘Tales of the Albatross’, is the strangest of the three: the autobiography of a deathless enchantress. Together, they tell the tale of two lost souls peregrinating through time.

An unforgettable tour de force, Crossings is a novel in three parts, designed to be read in two different directions, spanning a hundred and fifty years and seven lifetimes.

‘A magnificent, intricate machine of a book that is a sheer delight to read. With vivid characters and a brilliant premise, it is a puzzle, a love story and an adventure. Wildly imaginative and quite unlike anything I have ever read before.’ – Chris Womersley

 

Review

In the opening pages of Alex Landragin’s debut novel, Crossings, the reader is immediately made aware that this is no ordinary tale. The first two sentences read: ‘I didn’t write this book. I stole it.’

A Parisian bookbinder comes across a manuscript that consists of three separate stories. The first is a letter by poet Charles Baudelaire, written to an illiterate girl; the second is a noir romance set during Germany’s invasion of Paris; and the third is an autobiography of a deathless enchantress.

The reader is given a choice as to how to tackle the book: either in the traditional manner from first to last page to read three separate but seemingly connected stories, or follow a sequence of page numbers, moving back and forth through the book as guided by the text. This reader chose the latter, and what unfolds is a daring, strange and compelling novel that spans 150 years.

Putting this choice in the reader’s hands could appear gimmicky but for the bold imagination found within the book’s pages. The reader is certainly asked to suspend their disbelief at such a wild, tangled and fantastical tale but the writing is assured and inventive.

It’s quite unlike anything I’ve read before, but, at times, felt reminiscent of some of David Mitchell’s writing. The style is in the tradition of storytelling of old, where tales are told rather than shown, and somewhat like Scheherazade (who is referenced in the book) the reader is seduced by the telling.

The noir thread running through the book was particularly well executed, and there are cameos by historical figures – Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, Jeanne Duval and Coco Chanel (to name some) – that will delight and confound the reader. I look forward to revisiting the book from first to last page to see how it unfolds when read in the other direction.


Deborah Crabtree works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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