Aug 05 2005

The Gold Bug Variations

Published by at 3:12 pm under Books

by Richard Powers
This is the third book written by Richard Powers that I’ve recently read so a basis for liking it is in place. The author is a very verbal person who likes to lecture and does so in a pleasant manner as part of his novels! In this book, the subject of the lectures are: molecular genetics, musical variations, and code decipherment. Sound boring, well it wasn’t to me, but I did get irritated with it at time.
The story is told as an analog to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In a sense it is told 30 times, each with additional or different details which move the main story along (slowly, I’d say as the book is over 600 pages long). The overt story line involves two couples, four people, one of whom is only a memory. The protagonists are a research librarian (the voice of the story), a former brilliant molecular biologist, a dropped out PhD candidate, and a former female peer of the biologist. Given this cast, its not surprising that there is little physical action and a lot of thought, discussion, and mental ruminations.
The book was written in the mid 1980’s and seems to have been prompted by the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA which makes a good subject to blend with the musical variations scheme. Given its age, the molecular biology information is surely dated, but probably(?) still true in general outline.
So, it is a good book to read; if you like long, wordy, somewhat intellectual novels.

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