Codex

Codex by Lev GrossmanI suppose that since I’m something of an amateur medievalist, a book like Codex would have an obvious appeal.

Edward Wozny, an investment banker, is hired by clients, the Wents, to do a “special” job. When he finds out the job is cataloguing the Wents’ library, he is insulted, but something draws him to the books. He wants to learn more about the Codex, A Viage to the Contree of the Cimmerians written by 14th century medieval monk Gervase of Langford. He goes to the library and runs into an expert on Gervase — Margaret Napier, who just happens to be writing her dissertation on Gervase.

At the same time Edward’s friend Zeph introduces him a hot game called MOMUS that has taken the geek world by storm. Edward is sucked into the game. Over time, he realizes it has eerie similarities to the storyline of the Viage as Margaret has explained to him. Obsessed with finding the Codex and figuring out how to win MOMUS, Edward checks out of his normal routine and places a new position with his company in London in jeopardy. The ending is something of a twist, leaving Edward wondering just how much of the last month or so of his life was real and what will happen in the future.

I almost liked this book. It certainly kept my interest, and I didn’t put it down. What bothered me, however, was how quickly it spun out after Edward discovered why the game, MOMUS, had so many resemblances to his own quest for the Viage. In fact, it was too coincidental. Even Edward seems to realize this, frequently alluding to the fact that he feels like he is in a convoluted spy thriller movie or something.

The relationship between Margaret and Edward was pat and predictable. The reader only needs to wonder when they will kiss rather than if. On the other hand, I think the reader kind of wants the two to get together in some way, for Margaret’s sake. The twist alluded to in the end in the summary above was somewhat of a surprise, but it was nothing that careful reading might not have helped a reader discover.

I became concerned for Edward pouring his existence into this quest for the book and spending all his spare time playing MOMUS. He was wasting his life with the game, which, if you’ve ever obsessively played any game, you can relate to. I think mine was The Secret of Mana on the old SNES.

I don’t imagine this book would be entertaining for too many people if Edward’s search for the Codex delved too much into the medievalist aspect of it, but since that was one of the reasons I picked it up in the first place, I was disappointed.

I do think Grossman has a feel for those of us who grew up playing video games and still play them as thirty-something adults. He references an old Atari 2600 game called Adventure twice in the book, and it took me a minute, but then I remembered I had that game and tried to play it, too. The description of MOMUS sounds like any number of popular games created in the 1990s, namely Myst, although perhaps more interactive and realistic even. That side of the novel was interesting.

Would I read it again? Probably not. I don’t feel I wasted time in reading it, but it didn’t really grab me the way books such as The Dante Club have done. Upon reflection, however, I don’t think it was meant to.

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