Signal and Noise
This is an epic novel of adventure, love and history that sweeps between two continents and a grand cast of characters. The story is the laying of the TransAtlantic Cable (2nd-4th attempts), and that in itself would suffice to fill a serviceable novel or three, but in the hands of Griesemer it is (one cannot say merely) a carrier for the stories of the lives that are caught up and changed by it. The author’s gift of characterization brings each person richly to life, from the American prodigy Chester Ludlow, co-engineer of the cable-laying project, to Jack Trace, a Londoner and sketch artist for the newspapers. Twining about the stories of these two men are those of several others in what becomes an intricate tapestry. Not only is the novel concerned with bringing to life the story of the TransAtlantic Cable, it gives a brilliant picture of life in London and America in the mid-19th century. Indeed, the laying of the cable is only one part of a story that contains the Civil War, the launching of the Great Eastern and its subsequent ill-fated career, the rebuilding of London’s infamous sewer system, and an intimate look at the spiritualist movement and its practitioners. The themes of signal and noise run throughout the book as the characters try—and often fail, and must try again—to communicate with each other. Looking at it on its merits as a historical novel, the sense of being present during these times is never absent and is often exhilarating. An excellent novel about a little-explored area of history.