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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A System so Magnificent
it is Blinding

Amanda Svensson

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To purchase A System so Magnificent it is Blinding

Title: A System so Magnificent it is Blinding
Author: Amanda Svensson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2019 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 527 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: A System so Magnificent it is Blinding - US
A System so Magnificent it is Blinding - UK
A System so Magnificent it is Blinding - Canada
Un système d'une beauté aveuglante - France
Ein System, so schön, dass es dich blendet - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Swedish title: Ett system så magnifikt att det bländar
  • Translated by Nichola Smalley

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Our Assessment:

B : smolders appealingly but never really combusts

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 6/7/2022 Suzi Feay
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 19/9/2022 Michael Callahan
Svenska Dagbladet . 2/4/2019 Clara Block Hane
The Telegraph . 3/7/2022 Amber Medland

  From the Reviews:
  • "For a novel largely concerned with dysfunction, depression and existential despair, A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding is surprisingly funny.(...) Svensson’s riddling magnum opus is eerily enjoyable." - Suzi Feay, The Guardian

  • "The triplets and their mélange of cuckoo birds may be interesting to gape at, but after rumbling along for 500-plus pages their misadventures and, more important, motivations become increasingly opaque, with Svensson hatching a bunch of literary Easter eggs that end up rather scrambled. She welters in thinky asides, producing a hyper-intellectual fable that riddles you into a house of mirrors from which you wonder if you’ll ever emerge. (...) Buckling up for Svensson’s long, strange trip does prove kind of worth it, however, if for no other reason than to luxuriate in her nitid descriptions, which coast along the page with the effortless grace of stones skimming a pond (...) (A) vexing jigsaw puzzle of a novel" - Michael Callahan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Riding a crest of near constant epiphany, it runs to 529 pages, and is written in long, reaching sentences that often run to five lines or more. (...) At its worst the novel can feel like an incestuous whodunnit. At its best, it is magnificent. The trick might be to accept this book as it is: a sprawling, intelligent, ridiculous game. (...) There’s a lot of irrelevant information, but that may be the point." - Amber Medland, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A System so Magnificent it is Blinding centers on the Isaksson-triplets, Sebastian, Clara, and Matilda, born in 1989, with most of the action set when they are young adults, in 2016.
       Sebastian -- "an emotional amputee with a brand-new PhD" -- has gone to London, to take up a position at the London Institute of Cognitive Science (LICS) -- "one of the world's leading centres for research into everything from our sense to our synapses, right at the cutting edge of cognitive science"". Run by the disturbingly all-knowing Corrigan, it is a place he will acknowledge not too many months later: "is a bloody madhouse". He is assigned a subject, Laura Kandinsky, who inexplicably sees most things only two-dimensionally -- for her, suddenly: "the whole world had gone flat". As she describes it: "I'm trapped in a permanent trompe l'oeil". She is married and has a child, but she and a very unprofessional Sebastian, who can't help himself, also soon begin a passionate affair.
       Clara recently was forced out of her newspaper job and has gone to Easter Island, to do a story: "on consumerism, environmental destruction and the end of the world" as a freelancer. And Matilda -- who had previously been an aid worker in Bangladesh -- had moved to Berlin, but was now back in Sweden. While Clara is unattached, Matilda is involved with a man named Billy, who has an alcoholic ex and a young daughter named Siri whom he shares custody of.
       The triplets' mother had dropped a bombshell on her kids: along with the news that their father seems to have gone missing, she reveals something about their background that leads each to question their identity (even more than they have been). Hanging over the story is also the long shadow of Sebastian's longtime girlfriend, Violetta, who had committed suicide the year before; while little is said or revealed about her for much of the novel, her absence is as strong as any presence in the novel. Unsurprisingly, the big family secret and Violetta turn out to be very closely tied together (as indeed is already hinted at in the novel's opening pages).
       Among Sebastian's colleagues at LICS is the brilliant Jennifer Travis -- working, among other things, with cicadas (which continue to rapidly proliferate). It is Travis who makes the remark that gives the novel its title, when discussing the human brain -- "we so dearly want the human brain to be a mystery, right ?" -- and the essence of being human with Sebastian:

     There's a system in the madness, Sebastian, that's all I'm saying. A system so magnificent it blinds us.
       Any number of distractions also seem to blind the main characters, who fumble rather awkwardly with trying to get a grip on things -- on anything. Clara goes to Easter Island not once but twice, before also winding up in London. On the remote island she makes some interesting connections -- including befriending someone who is apparently the daughter of Sebastian's boss. Indeed, far-flung though the characters and events are, most everything winds up being somehow connected.
       A System so Magnificent it is Blinding is something of a heap of a novel, but it mostly meanders along agreeably enough. Svensson writes beautifully smoothly, and much of the time it's a pleasure simply to follow along, even if the action can be somewhat confounding. Well-crafted little incidental descriptions and explanations make for considerable amusing variety, such as:
People often turned up unexpectedly, at Laura and Philip's place -- only Philip's friends, of course; they paid visits in the classic manner, without calling first, without bringing a bottle, generally during the day. They had crisp handkerchiefs and fans and hats and Rimbaud in the original in their pockets and not infrequently a violin under their arm. If refused entry, they got offended and took revenge. Not by breaking contact, but by getting in touch twice as often.
       There's quite a bit of humor here -- A System so Magnificent it is Blinding is good fun --, even if there is somewhat of an over-reliance on the characters' (especially Sebastian's) practically dazed incomprehension.
       What appears to be meant to be the crux of the story, the revelation about family-matters -- revealed in: "The phone call that simultaneously explained everything and made everything very unclear" -- unfortunately falls a bit flat. For one, the matter at issue -- each of the triplets believes it applies to them -- is surely rather easy to resolve through basic genetic testing. Meanwhile, Violetta, presented as so central to so much, is not introduced nearly strongly enough; for all her presence in the story, she remains too shadowy.
       At one point, the friend Clara makes on Easter Island asks her:
     'But you have siblings ?' said Elif. 'Mom, dad, all that stuff ?'
     'Yeah,' said Clara, reluctantly.
     'What's the problem, then ?'
     Clara hesitated a moment. Then she said:
     'Communication difficulties. You could say. Differences, too.'
     'And ?'
     'Things that can't be unsaid. Things that can't be undone.'
     'Sister, get a grip,' said Elif, smacking Clara over the back of the head. 'As long as there's life, there's hope. Just say sorry. It's easy as anything.'
       There are all sorts of communication difficulties between the characters -- Clara not replying to Matilda's e-mails, for one, but many others as well. The fact that the characters are often in different locales plays a part in this, but even in the same locale characters often lose sight of and are out of touch with one another; among the big scenes near the end is a search in the LICS building itself. At various points, people (and animals) go outright missing, too, from the triplets' father to a moral monkey from LICS -- and all in all, this device of characters being missing and/or out of touch is something Svensson resorts to rather too often.
       It is a mostly enjoyable ride, but A System so Magnificent it is Blinding is, quite literally, all over the place and the bustle and juggling of so many characters, semi-storylines, and ideas -- even with all their connections -- weighs it down some. Despite something of a climax, it also feels rather anti-climactic, Svensson content with basking in the blinding glow of the system rather than really trying to get to the heart of it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 October 2022

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A System so Magnificent it is Blinding: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Amanda Svensson was born in 1987.

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© 2022-2023 the complete review

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