2000 - 2007

Mr Mee by Andrew Crumey

Mr Mee

Five words from the blurb: Octogenarian, Rousseau, Internet, philosophical, history

I added Mr Mee to my wishlist when Scott Pack compared the author Andrew Crumey to David Mitchell. I think he’s right to compare the two, but unfortunately Mr Mee felt a little dated to me.

The book begins with Mr Mee, a wonderfully entertaining elderly gentleman, discovering the Internet for the first time. His pleasure on discovering all the information now available at his finger tips was heartwarming and it there were a few amusing scenes involving Internet porn. Woven with this plot thread were two others: the story of two eighteenth-century French copyists who have a rare encyclopedia in their possession; and a narrative about a Jean-Jacques Rousseau professor who becomes obsessed with one of his students.

This book contained lots of interesting ideas. It reminded me of books by Scarlett Thomas in the way it combined philosophy, history and science in a clever, thought provoking manner. It was refreshing to read a book that wasn’t afraid to be intelligent, but, despite my degree in chemistry, some of the quantum theory went over my head. I also struggled with some of the philosophy. I’m sure that those familiar with Jean-Jacques Rousseau would gain more from the book and re-reading would reveal many more layers.

Historians might after all be able to understand the past, by virtue of its sheer unfamiliarity, better than those who experienced it; and the moment in which we live, like the self we inhabit, is the one we are least equipped to understand. Recognition is a faculty we are forever denied with regard to our own selves; unless perhaps one can become, at least temporarily, a person called ‘I’ who is not necessarily oneself.

The main problem with the book was that Mr Mee’s sections felt dated. Although it was only published in 2000, the Internet has come on a long way since then and details about the British high street were almost painful to read in the way they mentioned numerous shops that have gone into administration.

Another problem was that I had little interest in the historical section. This could be because my philosophy isn’t very strong or because the French copyists weren’t as well developed, but either way I lost interest whenever they appeared. The university lecturer was more engaging, but he also lacked the special spark shown by Mr Mee.

Overall I was impressed by the writing and the concept, but unfortunately too many aspects didn’t quite work for me. Andrew Crumey’s writing is impressive and I’ll be seeking out more of his work, but I’m afraid I read this one 10 years too late.


Have you read any of Andrew Crumey’s books? 

Which ones do you recommend?


5 replies on “Mr Mee by Andrew Crumey”

I too know next to nothing about Rousseau, but this book sounds interesting. I find I have two Andrew Crumey books on my shelves (Sputnik Caledonia and Mobius Dick), but have read neither yet, so can’t help you!

Annabel, It is good to know this author was already on your radar. I hope you decide to read one of his soon and can let me know if it is likely to be for me.

I am sorry you didn’t like this one. I too would notice a dated reference very quickly. I suppose only the great books that endure over time gets the lasting attention that it deserves from generations to come.

I like to read more of David Mitchell’s books but don’t think I will read this one.

Jo, I’ve run out of Mitchell books to read. I now need to start re-reading or finding alternatives. I can see Crumey’s other books being closer to the mark. I hope you enjoy your next Mitchell.

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