This is magical realism at its best. Kay Harper is an acrobat and contortionist. Her new husband, Theo, is a professor and writer who is working on a new book about Eadweard Muybridge. The two have decided to spend the summer in the old section of Quebec City. She has landed a gig with an avant-garde circus and Theo can research his book anywhere.
One night, after a late performance, Kay decides to join the cast for drinks. She walks home alone through the cobblestone streets. Echoing footsteps and a buzzing head combine to convince her she is being followed. Afraid, she ducks into a friendly puppet shop with a strangely unlocked door. She never comes home. Theo knows his new bride didn’t leave him, but with no clues and no trace of Kay he doesn’t know how to where to turn next.
What follows is the retelling of the Orphean myth with thoughtful aspects added to the mix. Eurydice (Yur-id-i-KAY) is trapped in the Underworld. He love, Orpheus, travels to Hades and plays his lyre. Hades is convinced that Orpheus’ love is true and makes a bargain. He can lead Eurydice out of the Underworld with his music but he can’t look back to see if she is following. Orpheus’ curiosity (or doubt) gets the best of him, he turns around and she is immediately doomed to the Underworld forever (For his part, Orpheus is shredded by Maenads who are impervious to his hypnotic music).
Eurydice is Kay, Orpheus is Theo, and Harper refers to his instrument. Hades is the bizarre world of the puppets, ruled over by the inhuman masters. Theo must convince others (and himself) that something supernatural has happened to Kay and that he has the ability to do anything about it. And though the story is based on the myth, the book becomes increasingly intense as the reader wonders if Theo will manage to rescue Kay after all.
Kay’s joints rumbled, he stitches pulled at the seams. The vibrations meant that they were moving once again. On the main roads at constant speed, the hum of the engine and rolling wheels lulled them to sleep, but a bump or a pothole and everybody was awake and complaining. ~Pg. 95
The book explores the theme of making the lifeless lifelike. Muybridge was a photographer who figured out how 24 frames per second was enough to trick the mind into thinking pictures were moving. The puppeteers are obsessed with presenting the most realistic marionettes possible. As an acrobat, Kay is part of a troupe that make the impossible possible.
Cozied in his office, Mitchell listened to their story from start to finish, surrounded by the artifacts of his passion for the ancient world. From over his shoulder, a bust of Aristotle looked down on Theo and Egon, and the bookshelves were crowded with titles in Greek and Latin. He seemed open and credulous, nodding at certain points as though he recognized elements that mirrored his vast knowledge of mythology. ~Pg. 179
The “magic” is never fully explained but the rules are consistent, an absolute imperative in a quest story. The Motion of Puppets is unsettling and creepy, with an undercurrent of steadfast love, built on a classic foundation.
Many thanks to Picador for the review copy.
6.13 x 9.25 inches, 272 pages