Crossings by Alex Landragin

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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Alex Landragin

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