It rarely happens that I let myself be drawn into a story which teeters between reality and fantasy. I think that it is extremely difficult to write a story which contains elements of fantasy and which would encourage the reader to enter a world of imagination rather than make him or her laugh at the improbable inventions of the author. But recently I read a novel which, being highly improbable, was nothing but charming and gripping and it reminded me of fairy tales which we are told as children. Indeed, I thought that the novel is a fairy tale for grown ups.
The novel which I am talking about is Andrew Crumey’s Pfitz, released by Dedalus in 1995. It opens with an introduction of a Prince who wishes to be remembered as a creator of fantastic cities. As his beloved dies, he devotes all of his energy to the task he has appointed himself. The city is to be, however, a city which consists only on a map and it is only the first idea that the Prince has. There are more which are just as imaginative and which introduce another set of possibilities.
The resemblance with fairy tales is clear as the reader is introduced to a Prince, who is one of the most popular fairy tales characters. As for the place and time, we cannot place the story at a specific time or location as we are only vaguely informed that the Prince lived two centuries ago which reminds us of the ‘once upon a time’ opening sentence characteristic of tales by Perrault or Andersen.
As far as the form is concerned, Crumey used the Chinese box narration and as the first chapter ends, we meet new characters. There is an imaginative Schenck who is a cartographer and a mysterious Estrella, a biographer. Then another story-line unravels and we are introduced to the humorous adventures of Count Zelneck and his servant. There is romance and deceit. There is comedy and drama. The characters are highly identifiable and you cannot help but wish them well. From time to time I forgot that certain events take place in imaginary environment but I wanted to stay in those places for a little longer. I liked Andrew Crumey’s storytelling, his subtle merging of fantasy and reality and I liked that the plot flows smoothly. The novel has an ability to make you as impatient as you were as a child, to find out how the story ends.