I have been very slowly working my way through this novel for months. I was reading it during our Winter Reading Session, and now have finally finished its 560 pages. That’s longish, but it shouldn’t have taken this long to read it. (The Weight of Ink is such an excellent title, isn’t it?)
This book was enthusiastically recommended to a friend by her friendly librarian. My friend bought it, was fascinated by it, and then loaned it to me to read. She was a bit hesitant, because it’s not your average bear of a novel, but I was immediately captivated by its premise which is all to do with ink and paper.
The novel is set in London & its environs, and toggles back and forth between the year 2001, the year a cache of documents is discovered in the space behind a staircase in a very old grand house, and the year 1665, the year during which they were written. The modern day main characters are the two researchers: Helen, who is nearing retirement, and Aaron, the PhD candidate assisting her in transcribing these papers written in several languages. The 1665 main character is the scribe who wrote most of the documents, first identified only as the Hebrew character, Aleph. The tracking down of this scribe is the great adventure of this story, and because the detailed story of the scribe is slowly unfolded in flashbacks, the reader always knows more than (and knows things before) the modern day characters.
The most profound thing about my experience of reading this book is that I started it before there was Coronavirus, then Novel Coronavirus, and now COVID-19 in the world. The year 1665 did not say “The Great Plague in London” to me. And then I literally read into the plague in the book as our own pandemic bloomed. Here, for instance, is a section I bookmarked on Page 389:
“London seemed redrawn: the invisible borders between parishes, once unnoticed, now were gulfs to be crossed at one’s peril–for the death-roll of each was attended to widely, and no matter how the dead’s kin might lie to mask the cause of death, the numbers spoke plainly. The rising toll had spread these weeks from parish to parish like a tide–or rather, like a fire, for its advance was uneven, as though a quixotic wind carried sparks that might set one patch of forest ablaze while leaving another, for now, untouched. Fear now infected every human transaction.”
Oh, my. I would gladly read another of Rachel Kadish’s books. I’m grateful for my friend’s recommendation.