The Architect is a taut and daring novel about a vaguely dissatisfied young architect who is approached by a group of delusional criminals to assist in what they absurdly argue is the perfect ideological crime: the theft and destruction of a series of paintings with no motive but to elevate the robbers to greater spiritual heights.
He balks at the idea at first, but after a series of unusual and disturbing experiences, including an ill-fated one-night stand followed by a late-night mugging, he begins to lose his grip on reason and comes to believe that the thieves may be right and that through accepting the offer he will undergo a metaphysical transformation by breaking through the confines of traditional morality to ascend to a higher plane of spiritual perfection.
With its cast of bizarre characters including the belligerent Fat Man, the chilling Seducer, and the delusional Lindqvist, The Architect is a exhilarating and tragic new take on the moral implications of the unmotivated crime made popular by classics such as Andre Gide’s (Nobel Prize) At the Gates of the Vatican. Refreshing and imaginative, it brings to mind Kafka in its blend of absurd humour with themes of alienation and Joseph Conrad in its psychological exploration of the corruption that lies in the hearts of grandiose personalities and social misfits.
It was late in the morning. Stephen gazed about his room, noticing - seemingly for the first time - all the boxes, books, and scraps of old newspaper strewn all over the floor. He climbed out of bed and dressed slowly, the cold winter air chilling his body into a state of damp rigidity. It was Saturday and he had no plans until later that evening. He put on his boots and stepped out onto the sidewalk on his way for his usual morning coffee. He lived in a small room in a shared house off the Kilburn High Street with a widowed Scotswoman Doris and her two teenage daughters, Muriel and Leyda. Clusters of slate-gray clouds rolled indifferently through the March sky above and a cold rain drizzled down as he walked briskly past a few Kilburn pubs in an effort to keep warm. The metallic screech of brakes and smothering odor of motor oil filled the air, seeming to form an impenetrable shell around the crowds of people that spread out into the distance, first down the mess of winding streets, and then over the gentle green hills that colored the horizon like strokes of graffiti paint on a dilapidated wall. He passed a line of shops. A bakery. A toy store with model war planes hanging temptingly in the window. A clothes shop. Finally the Kilburn High Street tube, just a block past a privately owned newsagent and directly across from a grocery store. Lines of people stood, carefully regimented like a battalion, in front of the bus stop. He searched his pockets for his underground pass as he walked through the station entrance.
Since moving to London almost two years ago his life had turned into a prison. In leaving Montreal he had hoped not only to gain practical experience as an architect by working for a leading west-end firm, but also to escape the fashionable ennui of student existence. Back in Montreal his life had never really oozed with excitement. Not to say that he had lead a dull existence - far from it. He was deeply involved in student politics and regularly attended meetings with a far-left separatist group in Lachine. He even did layout for a few editions of a short-lived underground newspaper called The Watchlight. Weekend nights he often spent in dimly lit clubs on St. Catherine’s Street with their cacophony of dyed hair, blue smoke, and chest heaving base lines.
He also led a rich personal life and for several years had a serious girl friend named Nadia. She was a nervy Quebecoise arts student with dark brown hair - clipped strait across the forehead - and narrow, ever so slightly slanted eyes. Although on the surface she seemed quiet and unassuming, underneath she was bold and often unpredictable - something he could never decide was a good or bad combination of traits. After dating for three years, she disappeared one morning without warning or explanation as if whisked away on behalf of a transcendental edict into some higher state of existence. All she left was a letter. One tiny letter. It was short but almost melodramatic in its unsettling sense of abstraction. It read:
Please forgive me - I’ll never truly understand why I’m leaving you. By the time you read this I’ll be far gone - for better or for worse. I’ll never forget the years I spent with you. Your dark eyes and the delicate touch of your heavy hands on my shoulders. I used to lie at home dreaming of you on my couch when I should have been studying. I would imagine that we had just made love and you were in the kitchen making coffee.
But I couldn’t go on. Everything between us seemed to unfold as if orchestrated by some vast natural law. You fit inside me like a missing piece of a puzzle. I felt so close to you. It seemed so perfect, but in reality we were slowly losing our identities, gradually fading into nothingness. I never felt complete when I was at your side. I needed to escape.
The nihilism of love and sensual ecstasy, the denial of the self, the slow swoon into the forest of the other. Emptiness in fullness, distance in proximity. How I hated you Stephen. Even in loving you I hated you.
Now I am alone. The future pointed at me like a gun. Please don’t come looking for me. I’m afraid that I’ll want to come back to the security of your love. Forever yours, forever sorry.