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  • The Medusa Frequency

  • Penguin Modern Classics
  • By: Russell Hoban
  • Narrated by: Callum Coates
  • Length: 4 hrs and 50 mins
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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The Medusa Frequency

By: Russell Hoban
Narrated by: Callum Coates
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Summary

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It all begins the night a leaflet comes through the door of unsuccessful novelist Herman Orff, promising a magical cure for writer's block. The strange treatment plunges him into a hallucinatory London dream world populated by figures mythical and real: a severed talking head, Vermeer's girl with a pearl earring, his lost love, Luise, and, beneath it all, the Kraken awaiting. As Herman will discover, creating art is a tough business.

©1987 Russell Hoban (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Sparkles with classical allusions and a wisecracking humour...it is pure joy." (Daily Telegraph)

"One of his most accessibly entertaining books." (The Times)

"Short, smart and fizzy, the novel seeks out the roots of creativity with none of the solemnity that phrase implies." (New Statesman)

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"You observe me, Sir! With aplomb!" "A plum?"

Densely-packed little novel from the late, great Russell Hoban. Published in 1987, 'The Medusa Frequency' is a typically abstruse example of the author's work, stitching an offbeat plot to a vivid patchwork of ideas. As ever, Hoban's novels act as a nexus between his various interests and his artistic impulse, so that Greek mythology, sci-fi, linguistics, semiosis, womanising, music and much more all get thrown into the mix. At one point a character states that "things arrange themselves in certain ways and it is up to us to connect them", which sums up the pareidoliac approach of Hoban in a nutshell. Superficially, the story concerns an author who, suffering from writer's block, undertakes experimental neurowave therapy, obsesses over an ex-girlfriend and holds hallucinatory conversations with the rotting head of Orpheus (of whom he is now a passing embodiment), but actually it's about the nature of inspiration, the act of creation, personal regret and the primordial terror of being (here personified by the Kraken). One of the motifs connecting these themes is the role of women in classical mythology. Particular examples here are Eurydice, forever in the shadows, just out of reach, and Medusa, taboo with her merciless gaze; both are catalysts of narrative action but with little agency beyond their influence on the male hero. Hoban disrupts their places in the monomyth with great relish. He can also write beautifully, mixing high-brow and whimsy with stylistic flair (chapter 14, for instance, made me wish he'd just written a straight, poetic take on the Orpheus myth). Occasionally his humour can take him on Douglas Adams-like flights of fancy but elsewhere this should really appeal to fans of PKD, Vonnegut or Pynchon. I first read this nearly 20 years ago and loved it; it didn't speak to me in the same way now but I think that's entirely appropriate to the spirit of the novel.
Callum Coates narration was excellent. This is a difficult book for audio and he caught all of its various idiosyncrasies and mood swings perfectly.