Aegypt, by John Crowley, is my favorite book, ever. It has recently been repackaged and retitled as The Solitudes, but Williamsburg Regional Library has a copy of this 1987 novel with the original title.
Books within books, stories within stories, histories within histories. Is there one history of the world, or are there many? When scientists of the past believed in alchemy, was it real? Was astrology? Are the structures of alchemy and astrology real, but disguised and hidden under layers of modern scientific belief? Do beliefs create our histories?
Pierce Moffett, a teacher of history, has been let go from one college and is on his way to interview at another college for the new school year in upstate New York. The bus in which he is riding breaks down in the idyllic town of Blackbury Jambs in the Faraway Hills, and as he awaits the substitute bus, he sees an old friend, Brent Spofford, shepherding a flock across the road. Moffett cannot possibly make his appointment at the college and wasn’t very excited about the new school anyway, so when Spofford invites him to stay for a while, he decides to take him up on the offer.
There is a library in Blackbury Jambs where Moffett finds old copies of books by Fellowes Kraft, books he used to read and love as a young boy. These books are biographies of such historical figures as Shakespeare, occultist/philosopher Giordano Bruno, and mathematician and alchemist John Dee. Fellowes Kraft once lived in the Faraway Hills, and when the executor of Kraft’s estate offers Moffett a job to read through an unfinished manuscript, he accepts.
While in Blackbury Jambs, Moffett gets to know some of the residents, and he falls in love. Spofford, Spofford’s sometimes girlfriend Rosie Rasmussen, Rosie’s ex-husband and their daughter, and Rosalind Ryder make up his circle of friends.The time is the seventies, when new-age thinking had even penetrated this small town. The stories of Doctor Dee, Shakespeare, Bruno and other subjects of Fellowes Kraft’s works are intertwined with the story of Pierce Moffett.
Aegypt is a dense book, not light summer reading. I’ve read it at least twice, and I know there is still much more to the novel I will find on re-reading. This is the first of four novels in the Aegypt series, but I have not yet been able to penetrate the second book, Love and Sleep. I know, that probably doesn’t make it sound like fun reading, but it is!
Check the WRL catalog for Aegypt