The King in the Window - Adam Gopnik

I first heard about this book from the Willamette Week, described as a cross between Madeline and the Matrix. (At least, that's what I have written down in my Palm.) Oliver Parker, a 12-year-old American living in Paris, discovers one evening that his reflection in the window isn't himself; rather, it's a boy in a traditional French doublet, whispering something about the "king in the window" and telling him to take up his sword and come home.

Thus begins an adventure which leads Oliver into another reality of window wraiths, the World and the Way, and other things starting with W. It reminded me a little bit of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere: a hidden world with its own rules and rulers right under our noses. Of course, Gopnik's version is neither as brilliant nor as creepy as Gaiman's (but what is?). There's an ongoing battle between mirrors and windows, led by the mysterious Master of Mirrors, the One with None, and Oliver finds himself in charge.

It's a clever idea and it was fun to discover the links that Gopnik drew between windows and mirrors, old technology and new. He threw in references to Alice in Wonderland, the ultimate mirror tale, and quantum computing, and multiverses. He makes up a wonderful explanation for clochards, "the old men, with long beards and matted hair, who live on the streets."

The writing, on the other hand, wasn't so great. Rhetoric and irony plays a big part in the book, and it's ironic that Gopnik's own rhetoric isn't so great. The sentences sometimes get in the way of the story, as if you're supposed to stop and admire them instead of being absorbed in the tale. (Somewhat like reflections in a window, come to think of it.) Large chunks of sentences are often repeated shortly afterwards, as if Gopnik had forgotten that he had already used them. And though the story is set in Paris, it's obviously written for Americans, with lots of explanations of how Parisians do things.

The characterization is a little weak, too. Oliver, particularly, seems to be extremely brilliant for a 12-year-old at some times, and then completely dull and witless at others. It seemed like there were too many people who either already knew about the world behind the mirrors or were too willing to accept it. I got tired of hearing Oliver tell his whole story, only to have the character reveal that, well, they knew about it all along. And then there's Charlie, Oliver's friend visiting from America, who is brash, obnoxious, spouts action-movie cliches, and a genius with electronics. To show what a gadget geek he is, Gopnik has him carrying (among other things) a Discman, a Walkman, and an iPod. Hmmmm. I guess Gopnik isn't much of a gadget geek himself.

A twelve-year-old boy might not mind some of the things I complained about (other than that last one), but it's certainly no Harry Potter. A fun diversion for a little while, but not the best written one I've come across.

Fed to jonathan's brain | July 04, 2006 | Comments (0)


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