Elementary

John Sutherland

  • Air and Fire by Rupert Thomson
    Bloomsbury, 310 pp, £15.99, April 1993, ISBN 0 7475 1382 1
  • Dreams of Leaving by Rupert Thomson
    Penguin, 435 pp, £6.99, April 1993, ISBN 0 14 017148 7
  • The Five Gates of Hell by Rupert Thomson
    Penguin, 368 pp, £5.99, March 1992, ISBN 0 14 016537 1

‘In order to write this book, I had to do a great deal of research,’ Rupert Thomson tells us; the research for Air and Fire evidently took two forms. The narrative centres on the quixotic attempt by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel to build a modernist cathedral, based on the Tower’s logical steel geometry. This would be unsurprising in 1890-something, except that this architect chooses to build his cathedral in a god-forsaken small town in Baja California, the peninsula that dangles along the West Coast with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Pacific wastes on the other. It’s one of America’s Erewhons, forgotten by history. Air and Fire’s epigraph is taken from Johan Jakob Baegert, one of the region’s few chroniclers: ‘Among people like the California Indians, and in a land like theirs, not many significant events occur which deserve to be recorded and known to posterity.’

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