Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run.
Betrayed by her family after taking the fall for a friend, Lee finds refuge in a cooperative of runaways holed up in an abandoned building they call the Crystal Castle. But the façade of the Castle conceals a far more sinister agenda, one hatched by a society of fanatical men set on decoding a series of powerful secrets hidden in plain sight. And they believe Lee holds the key to it all.
Aided by Tomi, a young hacker and artist with whom she has struck a wary alliance, Lee escapes into the unmapped corners of the city—empty aquariums, deserted motels, patrolled museums, and even the homes of vacationing families. But the deeper she goes underground, the more tightly she finds herself bound in the strange web she’s trying to elude. Desperate and out of options, Lee steps from the shadows to face who is after her—and why.
“Lee tried to imagine spending that much of her life dedicated to something so inconsequential. Then she thought of what she had spent time on in her life, and what it had amounted to.”
Well this book is certainly interesting, so much so that I still don’t fully know what to make of it. The Readymade Thief is a love letter to Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist that became famous in the early twentieth century for his influence on conceptual art. He is most famous for his readymades, manufactured pieces that he turned into art. His stance on what constituted art is an idea that could be applied to the novel.
“An ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”
It’s art if the artist says that it is art. There are connections if that’s what you want to see. Duchamp’s life and work are threaded throughout the story, even some very small references that are easy to miss, and this was actually pretty awesome. The study of Duchamp’s work I think made for an interesting aspect of the story, and I liked the ideas about the fanatical secret society and the dark sort of humor to the plot.
I have to commend Augustus Rose for his skill in creating a narrative flow that was so easy to take in. For the first half of the book Lee appears lost, like she’s treading water. It had a dream-like feel to it as Lee drifts in and out of different events. As the story goes on and the mystery starts to unravel Lee finds herself completely immersed. This steady shift in tone is reflected beautifully in both the pacing and the prose, from a drug-fueled haze to cold sobriety.
So why do I feel so undecided about this book? The devil is in the plot itself, which to me felt like it had too many holes and not well developed enough at points. Most of the Crystal Castle plot feels like it was thrown out of the window and I found it underwhelming. Then there was Tomi, the hacker. If there is one thing that is difficult to write about hackers and the deep web. I won’t go into many details about it due to spoilers, but there were a lot of pieces of this portion of the plot that was just plain illogical and almost pointless. I even checked with a friend of mine that is a student in cyber security to be sure. Frankly the deep web is almost romanticized in the book when it really shouldn’t be.
Also while I know that convenience was important for creating the dreamy flow that I mentioned earlier, a lot of things seemed a little bit too convenient to be believable a lot of the time. A good portion of the plot was easy to predict, but I was still compelled to read because I wanted to know more of the why than the what.
This book was a pretty cool read overall if you can get over the hangups that I had. It is the type of book that will leave you feeling confused right along with the main character throughout the entire book. All in all it was a mixed bag of mostly good things. It’s definitely an experience and worth the read in the very least to appreciate the tone and the feel of the writing which was really great. It’s the type of story I could easily see adapted to a television drama that I would watch in a heartbeat.
Strengths: Narrative flow, ode to Duchamp
Weaknesses: Plot felt weak, certain aspects of the plot seemed illogical, science conspiracy was quite frankly boring
Warnings: Sexual assault, violence, language
Where to Buy
A big thank you to Penguin for the review copy!