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This review is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

IMPONDERABILIA Stefan Themerson, The Mystery of the Sardine (Faber and Faber) £3.95 pb.

There are many mysteries in this perplexing and diverting book. The sardine and its mystery - wanted only for a footnote - seem small fry in comparison with the other mysteries: why was Euclid an ass? what exactly was the role of Poland's Minister of Imponderabilia? is Good Logic more useful than Perfect Logic? Yet this littlest of mysteries is the one that accounts for all the others. By the end of the book the reader will recognize such a paradoxical process as distinctively Themersonian. In the distorting (or tinted) mirror that provides the master image of the fiction, it seems natural that the smallest fish has the biggest bite, that a missing footnote contains the last laugh.

Admirers of Peter Greenaway's arch films, or Jean Tinguely's exploding machines, will find much to savour here. So will anyone who enjoys a novel novel. Ideas and their characters foam and froth in a trio of European locations, and the most thoroughbred of intellectuals will be hard put to keep up with Themerson's astonishing range of reference. (It helps if you are good at maths.) There is symmetry and geometry everywhere, from the cover inwards, and cultured wit of a Central European cast glistens on each page. Writing of this sort is tonic, and perhaps the retiring Mr Themerson would claim no more for it than that. Viewed from a distance, though, the sympathetic reader may find beauty in this text: an intricate beauty, like that of an astrolabe. ...


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