|In his first novel, X 20: A Novel of (Not) Smoking, Richard Beard demonstrated his love for variations on a theme, examining obsession from many different perspectives. In Damascus, he rings his changes on the nature of time as his characters are born; grow to adulthood; and experience tragedy, disappointment, and disillusionment before finally finding love--all on a single immutable day. |
It is the first of November 1993 and somewhere in the Kingdom, in Quarndon or Northampton or Newry or York, in Kirkcaldy or Yeovil or Lincoln or Neath, a baby girl is born. Her name is Hazel. On the same day in another part of Britain, a baby boy named Spencer also makes his entrance into the world, and 12 years later--also on November 1, 1993, he and Hazel are destined to meet during a holiday at the beach. Another 12 years will pass before the two meet again (on November 1, 1993) and make passionate love for the first time.
If the date remains unchanging, it's about all that does in this novel. This is the day, after all, when the European Union officially begins, the day after the deaths of film director Federico Fellini and actor River Phoenix. This is the last day in England for Henry Matsui, a somewhat deranged Japanese student in love with his teacher, Hazel, and he decides to make the most of it with potentially calamitous results. Most important of all, this is the day when Spencer hopes at last to find his Damascus: "a sign, any sign, telling him that he and Hazel were right for each other and that therefore his life had changed direction overnight." Though the physics of Beard's novel might prove initially distracting, is isn't long before one is so drawn into the characters' lives that disbelief is willingly suspended. And for readers who like puzzles and have a lot of time on their hands, you might want to get a hold of the November 1, 1993, London Times--all but 12 of the book's nouns are drawn from that day's paper. --Alix Wilber