June 14, 2009

The Eight by Katherine Neville

The Eight by Katherine Neville is a dazzlingly complex novel about the search for the legendary and mysterious Charlemange chess set called The Montglane Service reputed to give the owner untold power...the power to end Kings. There are two stories that run parallel to each other...that of Catherine Velis, New York, 1972, a computer expert working in a male dominated law firm who is sent to Algeria to consult for OPEC and Mireille de Remy, France, 1970, a novice of the Montglane Abbey who has been given a secret mission by the Abbess to conceal a number of the chess pieces of the service. Those who are in the hunt to acquire the chess service and the power it contains are said to be in The Game.
Neville pulls into the story a very broad spectrum of ideas and philosophies...from the meaning of the zodiac, planets and elements to mathematics of the Fibonacci numbers and infinity to the significance and history of cultures and religious customs. Additional themes were absolute power or dictatorship versus freedom of choice or democracy...that the many can be more powerful than the one. I think it would take an entire essay to examine all the different themes within the novel. The Eight is a very long novel at just under 600 pages of small type on paperback format. It took me many sessions to read and I often had to set the book down to ponder clues and events. The book is about fifty-fifty the story of Catherine Velis versus Mireille de Remy. At the beginning of each chapter there is a quote or abstract about chess and/or life that represents the meaning of each chapter.
In the book chess is defined as the ultimate game of strategy. Katherine Neville 'strategically' wrote and divided the plot of The Eight as a chess game. There are layers within layers of meaning about some of the ideas presented in the story...and games within games. There are very clever, intricate plot threads that eventually come back to their beginning (deliberate of Neville emphasizing infinity, eight, opposite yet parallel). The storyline at times was wildly dramatic although I found this appealing and often very imaginative, which kept me interested in reading the voluminous amount of pages.
I had a handful of issues with the novel. One aspect that never made sense to me was why Valentine was given a chess piece to protect though she was the youngest, most immature, impressionable and vulnerable novice and not even central to the storyline. A woman named Catherine Grand was mentioned as the one who started The Game in the historical storyline but it was never clarified how or why and it did not make sense to me.
The Eight is an amazing accomplishment of a novel. If you want an engrossing, complex, fascinating read look no further. The sequel, The Fire, was released in hardcover October 2008 and the trade paperback is being released August 25, 2009.
My Rating: 4.5

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