The Cure by Anthony Marais
Balneum Books
ISBN 097747920X; Paperback, 236 pages

Marais’ “The Cure” is an elegantly erudite novel with compelling prose.  It recounts a man’s mental journey, far from home; Robert has distanced himself from California and unusual academic troubles.  Seeking the cure to his life so far, he has moved to Kochbrunnen, Wiesbaden, Germany, long known for its curative waters–which at first he just dabbles with.  Slowly, though, the waters become the driving force of his existence.

Marais begins the novel with Robert waking from a tortured and confused dream, about which the reader is given much detail, though it’s difficult to piece together.  It comes across as a real dream, in that there are elements of truth but not everything is as it appears, or even relevant.  The narrative slips from the dream into introducing us to Robert’s existence; and we follow Robert around town for most of the rest of the book.

His life is both patterned and chaotic, having few constraints on it.  Robert walks the town, sits in cafes, and talks with friends, occasionally making new ones.  Amidst this, there is the water–and transformation.  He’s induced to wonder about the reality of everything, and begins to consider as possible things far from the norm.  While this could be a very juvenile story, Anthony Marais has put a lot of thought and polish into the introspection and the interactions, and even when not novel they ring true, and human.

As we approach the inevitable conclusion, we’re dropped, one by one, into the heads of his friends and acquaintances–to separate us from the reality of his dream and, I think, to draw out the suspense of things.  The answer at the end–or rather the perhaps necessary lack of one–left me somewhat disappointed: I’d followed the quest faithfully and wanted some other truth than what we’re given.

Reading the author notes that came with the book, I understood what he was going for and did gain a greater appreciation for it.  I almost wish the notes were printed as an afterward, more integral to the work itself, but then, I perhaps could have done with an annotated version from the get-go.  Still, the story is engaging, whether or not one fully notices and understands the meaning of the elements involved.  And in all, it’s a beautiful book and fodder for thought and conversation.

There is a mood and scope that reminds me somewhat of The Illuminatus Trilogy.  But everything in “The Cure” is more personal, and seems far more reasonable, and reasoned, until we ourselves are steeped in full-blown delirium and wonder where (or whether) we lost our way.  Of course, it’s easy to blame the water.

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