Tuesday, 6 August 2002

Sylvia Brownrigg: The Metaphysical Touch (1988)

Edition: Gollancz, 1998
Review number: 1111

How can one respond to a catastrophe which destroys the very centre of your life? Emily Piper, Pi to her friends, is a philosopher at Berkeley until the 1991 fire wipes out her home, her books and her cat. She stays with friends and relatives, unable to face anything to do with her former life (including books). Eventually, she moves in with a relative of a friend, a woman herself in the middle of a divorce and with an unhappy seven year old daughter. Pi has been given a computer by one of her friends, and she begins to discover the joys of the Internet. In these days before the domination of the Web, that really means email and BBSs. (This made the novel something of a nostalgia trip for me, as this is what things were like when I first went online in the late eighties.)

On the BBS accessed by Pippa, a bit of a stir has been created by a series of posts called the "Diery". (It reads rather like the wonderful monologues in the radio comedy drama At Home With the Snails.) This is a journal apparently written by a man named J.D. who has lost his job and is dealing with suicidal urges by documenting them. Although he goes to considerable lengths to hide his real identity, he contacts Pi directly after she posts stories based on parts of the Diery.

The Metaphysical Touch is the story of their virtual relationship. It is very well told, the emails that pass between Pi and J.D. are convincing. It is a philosophical novel, and in places requires a fair amount of concentration as a result, but it is worth it.

No comments: