A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
There is something about clouds that is magical and inspiring, that is one of the premises of this book which I agree with. Just the word cloud in the title of a book draws me in such as Russell Bank’s Cloudsplitter, which is really about building skyscrapers or Amanda Filipacchi’s Vapor which is about a scientist trying to become a cloud. Actually Theory… strongly reminds me of the latter, in that it includes an unconventional love story and a slight suspension of reality.
Akira Kumo is a wealthy man living in Paris, who at the end of his life has amassed a collection of writings about clouds in any form. He hires a librarian, Virginie, to organize things, but really to listen to his stories, which are all of people who have embraced clouds in an extreme manner. They are the people in the books that surround them, his stories bring the books to life.
The people are varied and fascinating, though all are presented as eccentric. They include Carmichael, who obsessively painted clouds; Luke Howard who gave clouds names that are still used today; Lewis Fry Richardson, a Quaker mathmatician who discovered a calculation to measure global wind movements in hopes of helping sailors and farmers. Instead the British government used it to determine when poison gas would be most effective in WWI. Then there is Richard Abercrombie who set out to photograph all the different sorts of clouds around the world and ended up with a very different sort of photographic record. This Ambercrombie Protocol acts as a type of Grail in the novel and Virginie’s search for it leads to more than one discovery.
There’s all sorts of weather facts and oddities sprinkled through the novel. One of the most exciting chapters is about the volcanic explosion of the island of Krakatoa in 1883 and it’s effect on the climate. The reader is continually amazed at the discoveries, inventions and rivalries that marked the early days of weather exploration. On the one hand, it’s astonishing what was done with such limited access and knowledge, on the other the history of meteorology is so recent, compared, to say, the history of art. The reader comes away having learned quite a bit about this intriguing subject.
There are sexual “interludes” throughout the book, but most of the time they haven’t much to do with the stories and feel pasted on.They don’t really serve any purpose.There are only several instances where the sex actually is part of a romance. Most of the time it’s with nameless prostitutes or native women who basically serve as body parts, not as real partners or even individuals in some cases. This aspect smeared through most of the book and gave it a tawdry feel. It’s the main reason I cannot give it my whole-hearted approval despite the appeal of the rest of the novel.
This strange book ends with Kumo’s childhood fully explained, his survival after Hiroshima, when a cloud of another kind changed his life. Only that one wasn’t magical at all.
Harcourt Books (translated from the French La Théorie des Nuages) 2007 266 pp. ISBN 978-0-15-101428-6