An ambitious project of a book that more than delivers. A lot of thought and planning surely went into Crossings, a surreal epic about the timelessness of love, memory, and the soul. Hats off to Alex Landragin for a wonderful work of fiction, from the novel’s composition to its quality prose. Keep reading my review for more information on what Crossings involves.
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Fun Book Design
You can read Crossings in two ways. A normal, linear reading provides a collection of stories. The ingeniously written preface, however, gives you a jumbled sequence of paginations to follow instead. At the end of each chapter, you get a helpful indicator too, directing you to the start of the next chapter. Reading it like this produces a full novel, connecting all three stories in an enchanting multilayered adventure.
The preface also provides a reason for the intriguing design. The novel’s Parisian bookbinder was approached by a client, the so-called Baroness, to put her most prized manuscript together. Shortly after receiving it, however, he found out that she was murdered and her eyes gouged out. In secret, now, he honoured her wishes and bound the manuscript, but in its linear sequence.
Basically, the whole book, from design to narrative, is an involved story worth wrapping your brain around. A nice example of almost metafictional fun.
Intricate and Fascinating Story
The novel Crossings creates is the story of Alula and Koahu, young lovers among the people of Oaeettee, a fictional island somewhere around Hawaii. These islanders are masters and keepers of a form of soul-exchange they call “crossing”, performed through prolonged eye contact.
When French sailors first appear on Oaeetee, its awed people welcome them, but inadvertently reveal their mystical art. Koahu ends up crossing with a Frenchman, which results in a bloody scuffle and the sailors rushing away, the boy’s soul trapped in one of them. Alula immediately realises what’s happened and crosses with another sailor to follow Koahu and try to save him.
And their ‘Tales of the Albatross’ continue across the world, spanning several lifetimes and culminating in the consequences of their brash actions. The narrative’s magical realism mixes wonderfully with many historical contexts and characters, including Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, and Coco Chanel.
Unfortunately, the plot does have its downsides. For example, this complex back and forth makes it easy to lose track of souls and events. Also the ending, though interesting, felt a bit weak and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, it was fun to go back to the preface and work out what might have happened.
Moving and Mindbending Themes
Crossings has a lot of depth. Landragin’s writing style is powerful and elegant, weaving the meaning of life, love, time, memory, and so much more into his tale. Its exploration of the soul is especially thought-provoking as Alula and Koahu cross into men and women, wealth and poverty, privilege and prejudice.
The quite literal illustration of the eyes being the mirror of the soul grabbed my imagination just as much. What could staring into one’s eyes mean and do? What makes us who we are? Our bodies, experiences, emotions, goals?
This unique book bends the mind and heart to think about all of these things. And the magical element makes it that much more enjoyable.
If you enjoy surreal but grounded fiction, Crossings is a great reading experience. In addition to the book’s overall mystery, you get a story that’s rich in emotive, intriguing vision. For the full effect, pay attention to the details and make sure to revisit the preface for extra hints. This is the kind of publication that can keep you busy for a while.
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