The Little Book
Ideally, you’d approach this novel as I did: with intense curiosity about its contents but little knowledge of the plot or characters. But since that makes for an unconvincing review, I’ll begin again, but very carefully. It’s best you discover its wonders and surprises for yourself.
The Little Book opens as Wheeler Burden, a 47-year-old resident of San Francisco, inexplicably finds himself walking along the Ringstrasse, the street encircling the dazzling city of Vienna, in 1897. How he arrived there from the year 1988, he has no idea. Fortuitously, he finds the setting very familiar, thanks to the enthusiastic teachings of his beloved mentor – who saw late imperial Vienna as the cradle of modern intellectual thought. As you read the novel, you’ll understand why.
Wheeler’s story loops back and forth in time as his mother, Flora, relates his uncanny adventures, based on the journal he kept while there. His story encompasses Freudian analysis, the philosophy of baseball, the history of rock and roll, modern feminism, the growing waves of anti-Semitic sentiment in 19th-century Europe, the truth behind many Burden family legends, and much more. But this isn’t just a novel of ideas; it’s really more about people and the bonds that connect them. The distinct and wonderfully eccentric characters that Wheeler meets gradually unlock the reasons for his presence there and then.
Selden Edwards is an imaginative and generous writer, and his debut is an impressive literary achievement, a poignant and unusual love story, and a delightful tribute to the vanished world of fin-de-siècle Vienna. There are few books that are both very cleverly put together and populated with characters you come to care about, but this is one of them. A feel-good novel in the best possible sense, it’s the type of book you want to beg all your friends to read.