Early thoughts on Richard Powers’ Orfeo (by Jill


I started Richard Powers’ Orfeo on Thursday after I finished The Children Act. Orfeo was an Indiespensible book back in early 2014, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it, though I knew it would not be particularly easy going. Powers is one of those smart folks whose novels are complicated and whose plots have very little similarities, at least none that I’ve been able to find based on the superficial studying I’ve done of his books on amazon, though many of the books have a link between art and science. In Orfeo, our protagonist, Peter Els, is a musician turned microbiologist in his retirement years. So far, the novel has been doing a lot of Els’ backstory, and the present day story line is just getting going. It all starts one night when Els’ old golden retriever passes away and he freaks out and calls 911. The cops show up and find his home microbiology lab, and that brings down Homeland Security on him. It sounds like soon enough Els goes on the lam, though that hasn’t happened yet. I’m only about sixty pages into the book, after all.

So far, I am enjoying Orfeo, though just about all of the many, many references to classical music are going completely over my head. Have I heard of some of the composers Peter and his high school/college girlfriend Clara discuss? Of course? Do I have any idea what the music they discuss sounds like? Nooooo. I do think that this book should have come with a CD of all the music. It would help those of us who are not well-versed in classical music, I think. Powers describes the music so beautifully that I wish I knew what it all sounded like. I think that when Powers decides to describe more of Els’ work with his home microbiology experiments I’ll feel smarter. I’ve at least heard of the bacteria he’s working with: Serratia marcescens. I believe its colonies are red, but that’s all I remember about it from my microbiology days.

Oh, and since 2015 is apparently my year of reading novels with creative uses of punctuation (or lack of punctuation in the case of José Saramago), I must mention that Powers uses italics to demarcate dialogue, not the traditional and sensible (yet apparently obsolete) quotation marks. Maybe I should have a reading challenge to only read books that utilize new and interesting ways of marking dialogue. No, that would be legitimizing the loss of uniform punctuation. And we are fans of punctuation rules here on Postcards from Purgatory.

And with that, Happy Easter, everyone. I hope your days are filled with candy and eggs and ham.

This entry was posted in Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Jill, Richard Powers. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Early thoughts on Richard Powers’ Orfeo (by Jill

  1. bedstrom says:

    This is going to sound ridiculous, but I am so happy you are reading a book by a Richard. One of my current obsessions/distractions from writing is plotting to have as many writers with certain common first name as possible appear in our list. I actually have a written-down list of writers named John, William, and Richard whose work I want to read solely in order to add those authors to the blog.

  2. bedstrom says:

    I just now saw (and registered) what you said about wishing Orfeo came with a CD of the music in the novel. Have you tried looking online? I have found playlists like these for other novels – on YouTube, I think.

    • badkitty1016 says:

      What a good idea. I looked for a few things on iTunes last week and that ended up costing me $30 because I saw that a few new CDs had come out that I “needed.”

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