I discovered this book by Michal Ajvaz a while back on a Locus list of notable fantasy novels from 2010. Literary fantasy novels like this intrigue me more than most of the mainstream sword & sorcery. Since The Golden Age was translated from Czech by Dalkey Archive, who publish quite a bit of literature in translation, I figured that I would give it a try.
A travelogue to a fictional island, The Golden Age unfolds slowly. An unnamed, and unreliable, narrator reminisces of his time on an equally unnamed island. The narrative is focuses on his fading memories of the years he spent on the island, mixed with his present life in modern Prague.
Our narrator begins by describing the islander’s peculiar culture, a kind of anti-culture that neutralizes and consumes outside influence, while still leaving island life languid and care free. Here, the narrative often reminded me of Borges: a sort of magical realism of anachronisms, oddities and absurdisms.
The later half of the book is primarily an exploration of the island’s one art, a book that constantly evolves through annotation and revision. Here we descend into many-layered stories reminiscent of Gene Wolfe. Here we are treated to a narrative consisting of writers writing about writers who are further writing about other writers. These concentric stories manage to echo the paradoxically complex structure of his fictional book.
This was a beautiful book, a satisfying narrative of dream and the shifting veil of memory. I highly recommend it.