Half-remembered book quest
September 22, 2010 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Please help me identify a book - I've tried Google so many times, it suspects I'm an automated robot

I've been trying in vain to find this fiction book again. I randomly picked it up in a Waterstones '3 for 2 on paperbacks' offer somewhere between 2002 and 2004. So it must have been pretty new then.

It had elements of fantasy, but it was a serious and affecting work of fiction as I remember it.

It had quite a long title, and I think the cover pictured a journey (by sea? a boat?).

At/near the start, a girl is living in some kind of tower or castle. Possibly with her father. I think he then later imprisoned her in a dungeon, and the hero (who might have been a robot or something?) rescued her.

It ended in some kind of maze, and things got quite strange at this point. I think the girl re-encountered her father there.

Anything that happened in between is gone from my memory. But I know I liked the book, and I'd like to find it and read it again.

Can anyone help?
posted by sleepcrime to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds a little like the plot of "The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. The Primer is an interactive book that plays a large role in the novel.
posted by Quietgal at 4:13 PM on September 22, 2010

Hmm. The Winter of Enchantment had a girl, with her father, at the beginning. Then she is kidnapped by a magician and in his castle. Later a boy rescues her, and has to go through (I think) a maze as well as several other challenges, where they indeed encounter the magician again, who I suppose could be mis-remembered as a father. It's a brilliant book - very engaging. It includes a talking teapot, a talking cat, a magic mirror, and at one point Sebastian (the hero) meets each of the four seasons.

Link - although the cover doesn't match what you said, and it doesn't have a robot. And I could be totally wrong.
posted by routergirl at 4:26 PM on September 22, 2010

Funny how different brains work: it sounds nothing like (my memory of) The Diamond Age to me! But it did make me think "ooh that sounds like...", in my case Iain Banks' Walking on Glass. My copy has a maze on the cover, it definitely has a castle, fantasy elements but highly affecting, and as far as I remember "things got quite strange" applies wholeheartedly! However, having refreshed my memory from the back cover blurb, it seems to be lacking in the robot department, and its marked © 1985, so I guess that's not it. Throwing it out just in case.
posted by Slyfen at 4:47 PM on September 22, 2010

I'm pretty sure Peirs Anthony has a robot character in his Xanth series, and would be likely to have the other castle/princess/fantasy elements. I'm doubtful the book I"m thinking of was written recently though.
posted by gilsonal at 7:10 PM on September 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all your suggestions so far – sadly none of them fit. Although I've got some excellent-sounding new books to put on my reading list.

I'm thinking that maybe the 'father' might have been a professor. And maybe even 'professor' was in the title. Hmm.
posted by sleepcrime at 4:44 AM on September 23, 2010

Best answer: Ah I found it! I was struggling to think of the right phrase to describe this book, and suddenly realised 'whimsical fantasy' was it -- incredibly, once I keyed that into Google with 'daughter' and 'dungeon', it was the first damn result.

It's Salamander by Thomas Wharton. I got it the wrong way round: the man (not boy) is imprisoned and the daughter rescues him. I was right about the cover though, and the reviews confirm it's as strange and magical a story as I remember.
posted by sleepcrime at 4:53 AM on September 23, 2010

You may be thinking of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.

It definitely has elements of fantasy ("surrealism" would be more accurate), and Murakami is certainly a "serious" author, and his works considered literary and genre-crossing.

The title is definitely long. The US edition's cover doesn't depict a journey, but since you purchased it at Waterstones, I presume you bought it in the UK or Europe. I don't know what's on the cover of the non-US editions.

The story consists of two narratives that converge at the end. One is the sort-of cyberpunk story ("Hard-boiled Wonderland") of a Calcutec, a person with the ability to encrypt information through his brain (certainly sounds "robotic") as part of an information war between The System and The Factory. The Calcutec works for a scientist who lives with his granddaughter (maybe the "girl/father" pair?) in a lab in the sewers ("maze"?).

The other story is told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator (who I believe is male, but could possibly be interpreted as female, I suppose) with amnesia who finds himself in a a walled town ('dungeon"?) in a semi-fantastical setting, trying to figure out who he is.

Toward the end, the two stories converge, and IIRC the ending takes place in the sewers ("maze"?), and, yes, it definitely gets strange, to say the least. Murakami's style blends genres (cyberpunk, detective story, fantasy) for the purpose of exploring how consciousness and identity are constructed, and the whole experience of the novel (as you can probably guess from my fragmentary summary above) is a pretty surreal pastiche. . . but impeccably well-written and astounding to read.

Definitely worth a read, even if it wasn't the book you're trying to recall.
posted by gritter at 5:09 AM on September 23, 2010

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