Cover image for Quartet for the end of time : a novel
Quartet for the end of time : a novel
Skibsrud, Johanna, 1980-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2014]
Physical Description:
470 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
A false conspiracy charge against a World War I veteran prompts the man's disappearance and haunts his son throughout the 1930s, intertwining his life with those of a powerful congressman's children.
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Inspired by and structured around the chamber piece of the same title by the French composer Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time is a mesmerizing story of four lives irrevocably linked in a single act of betrayal. The novel takes us on an unforgettable journey beginning during the 1930s Bonus Army riots, when World War I veteran Arthur Sinclair is falsely accused of conspiracy and then disappears. His absence will haunt his son, Douglas, as well as Alden and Sutton Kelly, the children of a powerful U.S. congressman, as they experience--each in different ways--the dynamic political social changes that took place leading up to and during World War II.From the New Deal projects through which Douglas, newly fatherless, makes his living to Sutton's work as a journalist, to Alden's life as a code breaker and a spy, each character is haunted by the past and is searching for love, hope, and redemption in a world torn apart by chaos and war. Through the lives of these characters, as well as those of their lovers, friends, and enemies, the novel transports us from the Siberian Expedition of World War I to the underground world of a Soviet spy in the 1920s and 1930s, to the occultist circle of P. D. Ouspensky and London during the Blitz, to the German prison camp where Messiaen originally composed and performed his famous Quartet for the End of Time.At every turn, this rich and ambitious novel tells some of the less well-known stories of twentieth-century history with epic scope and astonishing power, revealing at every turn the ways in which history and memory tend to follow us, and in which absence has a palpable presence.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In this virtuoso performance by the winner of the Giller Prize for The Sentimentalists (2011), Skibsrud combines snippets of narrative with long, lyrical passages, brimming with insight and emotion, on the ill effects of war, the repercussions of betrayal, and the elliptical nature of time and memory. Named for the chamber piece by Olivier Messiaen, which was composed and first performed while he was a prisoner of war in Germany, this epic novel follows four characters whose paths intersect during the Bonus Army riots in Washington, D.C., in 1932. WWI vet Arthur Sinclair is arrested and misidentified as the maker of a small but powerful bomb intended to be used during a demonstration by WWI vets demanding to be paid a promised bonus. He is never seen again, although his son, Douglas, will spend decades looking for him. Arthur's disappearance also haunts Alden and Sutton Kelly, the children of a politically connected judge. Sutton becomes a war reporter, while the politically radical Alden decamps to Paris and further betrayals. Weaving in and out of time and set variously in a Siberian jail, a German prisoner-of-war camp, London during the Blitz, and Paris during the occupation, this is a sweeping, ambitious saga that will reward patient readers. Much like a piece of music, the novel ebbs and flows, calling on deep reservoirs of emotion even as it tells a story both panoramic and intimate.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This intricate, ambitious novel by the author of The Sentimentalists (winner of the Giller Prize) takes its theme-the illusions of time-from Olivier Messiaens musical composition of the same name. In 1932, an ad-hoc army of veterans occupies Washington, D.C., demanding the immediate payment of their demobilization bonuses. Rebellious Alden Kelly is drawn to the makeshift camps, where he falls prey to Communist operatives. When Alden is arrested carrying an explosive, his politically powerful father pressures the boys young sister, Sutton, to falsely identify veteran Arthur Sinclair as the guilty party. Alden is released, but Arthur-whose fate is never clear-continues to haunt Alden, Sutton, and Arthurs son, Douglas, who crisscrosses the Depression-ravaged country in search of his father. Alden never frees himself from the incidents burden; as WWII ends, past and present, truth and illusion, merge in his mind. Like McEwans Atonement, the novel examines an act of personal betrayal against a sweeping backdrop of historical conflict. The philosophical musings and narrative detours Skibsrud uses to manipulate time sometimes make the pacing sluggish. But at its best, the novel is a haunting meditation on responsibility with vivid glimpses of history, and a distinctive and nuanced voice. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Creating an epic such as this one required a commitment from Skibsrud (The Sentimentalists), and this novel will require a commitment from the reader. The story, about several people affected by the sudden disappearance of World War I veteran Arthur Sinclair during the 1930s Bonus Army war, reads like memories after waking from a dream. These moments are shared by a brother and sister, Alden and Sutton Kelly, who might be to blame for Arthur's fate, and Arthur's son Douglas, who spends many years looking for his father. The novel comes to a close as World War II ends, in a German prisoner of war camp where Olivier Messiaen composed his famous Quartet for the End of Time. The reader must embrace the idea that time is not linear and that events taking place in the present are recollections or events a character might later need to review or defend. Scenes and new characters are introduced in great detail but only for a few pages or even paragraphs. However fleeting, they are important to the featured character at that moment and hence important to the overall story, but they weigh down the narrative. VERDICT This is an ambitious, creative, and sweeping novel, starting in 1930s Washington, DC, and moving throughout the United States and eventually to war-ravaged Europe, but it is no easy read. [See Prepub Alert, 4/27/14.]-Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.