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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Peter Adolphsen

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To purchase Machine

Title: Machine
Author: Peter Adolphsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 85 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: Machine - US
Machine - UK
Machine - Canada
Machine - India
Das Herz des Urpferds - Deutschland
  • Danish title: Machine
  • Translated by Charlotte Barslund

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting approach, for the most part successful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 9/5/2008 Paul Binding
NZZ . 29/10/2008 Peter Urban-Halle
The Spectator . 26/3/2008 John de Falbe
TLS . 4/4/2008 Daniel Jeffreys
Die Welt . 16/8/2008 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Adolphsen's portrait of the fated couple is brilliant, a profoundly convincing paradigm of the Western mind-set trying to grapple with life (how best to fulfil oneself in it) and death (how to confront its manifestations). (...) The author's purpose is to reveal the vastness and complexity that is the context for any random-seeming convergence. His triumph is to endow his apparently insignificant one with a moving significance." - Paul Binding, The Independent

  • "Adolphsens Prosa ist kälter als Christensens Lyrik, aber er hat einen Sinn für die Sprache der Wissenschaft, die er begeistert und schöpferisch wie kein Zweiter einsetzt, er macht konkrete Poesie daraus. Gibt es überhaupt einen anderen Autor, der sich wie er einen Rausch anschreibt und dabei so nüchtern bleibt ?" - Peter Urban-Halle, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Related in brisk, incisive prose, the narrative consists of complex mechanistic chains that zoom from macro to micro, with chunks of technical detail that are more usually found in textbooks, or on helpful university websites, than in a novel. (...) Adolphsen bravely flouts all conventional ideas of how fiction works for the sake of his rigidly deterministic picture, but it is banal. It must be conceded, however, that he presents the world in a surprising way. (...) Yet it feels more like a technical exercise rather than a developed work of art." - John de Falbe, The Spectator

  • "But this modern variant of the it-narrative -- the journey of a piece of matter from horse's heart to oilfield, to machine, to carcinogenic growth in a woman's lungs -- lacks verve and ingenuity. (...) Scientific writing cannot communicate a subjective, palpable truth, and Adolphsen's dry, encyclopedic approach, repeated throughout, can only give a partial non narrative view of the world." - Daniel Jeffreys, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Die Chaostheorie als Roman ? Bitte, hier ist sie. Schön, bunt und so rätsel- wie gehalt- und kunstvoll." - Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       For a story that spans tens of millions of years, Machine is a very short novella. On top of that, Adolphsen reveals the entire trajectory of the story -- the heart of a prehistoric horse fifty-five million years ago eventually transformed into oil, refined into gasoline, put in a car and released as exhaust fumes, breathed in and triggering a cancer in 1975 -- within the first pages. In then recounting the story chronologically, he moves between textbook precision and the freedom of fiction; at times the two don't mesh, leading to awkwardness such as when he imagines the small, ancient horse resting by a stream:

     "This is safe," she thought. "Crocodile cannot reach up. Diatryma cannot reach down."
       Though covering such a long period of time, Adolphsen zooms in only on particular times, and people. One connecting element is Djamolidine Hasanov -- later styling himself 'Jimmy Nash' -- from Azerbaijan, who winds up in America (as an oil worker), and eventually in the car with the cancer-inducing gas. Adolphsen goes on at considerable length about Jimmy, and how he winds up in America; he does so fairly well, but it's not an ideal fit for the larger story he is trying to tell, not when it's such a prominent part of it.
       From an LSD trip (complete with careful explanation of the origins, chemical makeup and consequences of, and doses of the drug) to Mormon history to philosophising ("In terms of logic, coincidence is a property or an incident whose existence can be denied without this being a contradiction"), the narrative of Machine wends its way forward in agreeably unpredictable ways. It is surprisingly engaging, and ultimately even moving, but it's also not quite enough.
       The concept of Machine certainly sounds more theoretical than practical, but while Adolphsen shows that his is a viable (and even a compelling) narrative approach, he doesn't go nearly far enough with it. Machine may be short, but it is not compact, and so where there are parts that are too briefly focussed on it feels like something is missing. Unfortunately, there are too many of these.
       For such a well-thought-out work, Machine also has a curious narrator-problem, as Adolphsen employs a first-person narrator who surely can not have the required omniscience to describe everything he does; the explanation he does offer (and he does have one) feels like a fairly desperate one (i.e. like he couldn't think of anything better, so he just went ahead with this one). The narrator remains unnoticed for the most part, but when he becomes part of the story at the end it feels awkward. So to is the early claim that he is familiar with the caner-causing outcome because:
I know this because I was eavesdropping from the neighboring balcony as she inhaled the particles which triggered the pathological cell division.
       Again, this suggests an unbelievable omniscience -- and one that hardly squares with the 'eavesdropping' (which seems, in any case, a very poor word choice here, suggesting as it does that he ... heard the particles being inhaled ?).
       So, yes, Machine does feel -- or rather, looks like, especially on closer examination -- a writing-school exercise that he didn't completely pull off. But it's still well worthwhile, as Adolphsen also gets and does a lot right -- and has a pretty decent story-telling touch, which he seems almost reluctant to let free (it's as if he's playing these games to rein himself in, rather than just letting the story go where it takes him). And the theoretical aspect and approach also have their appeal, even if they don't withstand that much scrutiny. It's good enough that the flaws don't matter -- that much.

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Reviews: Other books of by Peter Adolphsen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Peter Adolphsen was born in 1972.

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