I had seen Edward Carey's novel "Observatory Mansions" on a library shelf for quite some time before I actually took the novel home with me to read.
Despite the saying "You can't judge a book by its cover" I find it incredibly hard not to when considering which book to read next. In all truth, you really are at the mercy of how the novel looks by the cover art and the description on the back cover. I'd studied OM and been attracted by both the cover artwork and what the description said on the back. However, I hesitated on actually borrowing it, afraid maybe that if I finally did read it and didn't like it, all I would be left with was a nifty cover, where everything is labelled from the title to the barcode.
When I finally did read the novel I'm happy to say that it not only met my smallest hope that it would at least be an interesting read but it surpassed it. OM is one of the best books I have ever read or ever will read, I suspect.
Francis Orme is the novel's protaginist. He lives in a decaying apartment building where he takes care of his immobilized parents. In the daytime, in order to make money, he works as a statue. Franicis Orme is well practiced in the art of stillness. He is also never seen without a pair of immaculate white gloves on his hands.
The apartment where he lived is the "Observatory Manisions" of the title. It is also home to a handful of odd yet unique residents. The greatest fear of these residents is that a stranger will be forced into their environment disrupting their orderly and lonely lives.
Francis has particularly strong reasons to be wary of someone new for in secret he has created in the basement a vast collection of objects. They are objects he had stolen from others with the sole requirement that the item was loved.
One day his fear is realized when someone new comes to stay at Observatory Mansions.
I don't think that OM is a novel that will appeal to everyone. It's the result you may get if David Lynch wrote a novel in the style of Charles Dickens. However, because I tend to like off beat fiction it did strongly appeal to me. No matter how eccentric the book is its most important strenth is Carey's unexpectedly moving and powerful story and the way in which he reveals his characters gradully to the reader. In some cases the characters are strange and exagerated but the motivations behind them, as are Francis descriptions, are human. Peter Bugg, a man who's whole body starts to cry, is a standout.
Francis Orme is one of the most fascinating characters ever created and my favorite in the novel. He may be hard to understand at times, stubborn, cruel and strange, but there is always the feeling that there are deep secrets in the past that would help explain poor Francis better to us. When Carey chooses to reavel these secrets it is nothing less then heartbreaking, haunting and beautiful.
His collection of beloved items, which at the start could be viewed only as a showcase of one man's compulsion to steal and his talent as a theif by the end of the novel was completely altered in my eyes. Francis' reasoning changed to the point where it almost seemed an act of a noble person or at least proof of his vast ability to remember and love. The Exihibition became almost sacred.
The greatest way to convey hom much I loved OM is to say that if I happened to be reading it and placed it beside me to momentarily look away, and if Francis Orme was real and happened to be passing by, should I look to where I had placed the book it would be gone, having been taken away to become yet another object in "Francis Orme's Exhibition of Love".