The Northern Caves by nostalgebraist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Postmodern moral philosophy fiction is somewhat hard to come by, so when I was recommended this story, I immediately found myself reading it in its entirety.
I was thoroughly riveted by each successive chapter. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. I especially loved the setting, a series of forum posts from the early 2000s. The setting felt true-to-life; I vividly remember participating in phpBB forums just like this when I was young. And the story performs beautifully in the beginning and middle, continually rising toward a climax that I don't want to talk about in this review, for fear of spoilers.
But I will say that the final chapter hits hardest if you stop and think through the entirety of the story afterward. For me, it took several minutes and a slight reread before I fully integrated the final chapter and its place among the rest of the book.
Despite the glowing recommendation above, there are a few problems with the story that keep it from getting five stars. I'll try to avoid big spoilers, but if you haven't read the book yet, you probably shouldn't read the rest of this review.
The Notes XV - XVI chapters bring a tragedy that seems somewhat out of line with the concept of Mundum; it just doesn't seem to fit. (Mundum is anti-causal, yet causes the event at the restaurant? I understood mundum to necessitate, but not cause, tragedy.) Saying that this story point might not have to fit for postmodern reasons is insufficient in my opinion. Also, that Salby pointedly avoids writing about sex, commenters bring this up specifically, and then nostalgebraist writes in sexual content anyway -- this just seems like the author is playing with the readers. Finally, that last chapter, even though it makes a really good point about the entirety of the story, nevertheless feels deflationary. Sure, it was a brilliant ending in one sense because it made me think, and it brought me around to thinking something very differently than what I was thinking just one chapter prior, but at the same time, it just made me feel bad. While I was reading this story, I got more and more invested, and I feel almost like the author cheated me out of the resolution I wanted. Instead, I got a 'resolution' that made me almost regret the way I thought about previous chapters. This was a good thing, I think -- it is certainly a novel way of reading a story like this, and I'm glad to have been exposed to it -- but I almost feel like I've been rick-rolled. Sure, it's great and fun this time, but if I ever read another book that does this to me again, I think I'll throw it down in disgust.
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