three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
Lev Grossman
user_rating: 
0

A-CodexJust as Edward Wozny, a successful 25-year-old investment banker, prepares to move to London for a new job, he gets tasked with cataloguing a wealthy Manhattan client’s personal library of rare books. At the same time, he becomes increasingly immersed in the world of a strangely addictive computer game. Codex toggles between two plotlines: the search for a lost 14th-century manuscript that may reveal the coming of the apocalypse, and the siren-like lure of 21st-century interactive gaming. Amid the intrigue and parallel stories, Grossman explores issues of the past, present, and perhaps even the future of story-telling.
Harcourt. 348 pages. $24.

NY Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Codex takes its place on the shelf of self-referential, bibliophilic page turners like The Name of the Rose, Possession and A Case of Curiosities, and it’s as entertaining as any of them. … [Edward’s] ignorance [of the scholarly world] provides readers with a point of entry: as he learns more and more bibliographic esoterica, so do we." Polly Shulman

SD Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] frenetic dash through centuries of literary history, wealthy British royal conspiracy and high-tech gadgetry, all of which could take Edward down, ruin his career, ruin his life—yet he can’t resist any of it, and neither can we." Frank Mundo

SF Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Lev Grossman’s Codex is a genuine treat, with its sneaky plot and richly textured storytelling. It also moves so fast readers won’t realize how smart it is." David Lazarus

Salon 3 of 5 Stars
"Part of the fun of Codex is watching Wozny get introduced to the birth of English narrative, incubated in the time of Chaucer and, at the same time, instructed in the state of the art of multiplayer interactive gaming plotlines." Andrew Leonard

Village Voice 3 of 5 Stars
"Codex transcends the current vogue for the archaic—explicitly linking the 14th and 21st centuries by considering the respective, and not entirely dissimilar, powers of parchment and PlayStation. It’s an artful, populist, conceptually ambitious exercise in what Umberto Eco has labeled ‘postmodern medievalism.’" Dennis Lim

Newsday 2 of 5 Stars
"Before the indifferent plotting and the lazy writing do Codex in, it’s a moderately engrossing time-killer. ... The real problem with Codex is that it’s a popular entertainment stuck in the uneasy middleground between high and low." Charles Taylor

Critical Summary

Book critics tend be somewhat skeptical when one of their own takes the plunge as a novelist. But Grossman, a book reviewer for Time, needn’t worry about a backlash from his colleagues. With the exception of Newsday, critics praised his second novel, particularly its ambition and deft handling of two clever, playful plotlines that expose the overlapping worlds of bankers, scholars, and tech geeks. Critics compared the thriller to works by Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, and A.S. Byatt, and, not surprisingly, The Da Vinci Code. We’d like to know if the book’s title was selected after the success of The Da Vinci Code. Even if Codex doesn’t equal Code’s run atop the bestseller list, Grossman has crafted an original, engaging story that will likely appeal to a wide range of readers.

The Critics Discussed

A-NameRose.epsThe Name of the Rose | Umberto Eco: In 1327, 50-year-old Brother William of Baskerville is sent to investigate deaths at an Italian abbey.

A-Possession.epsPossession A Romance | A.S. Byatt: Winner of the Booker Prize. this literary mystery is a favorite of book groups. Two academic researchers search for clues to a heretofore unknown romance between two Victorian poets.