I’ve seen a lot of hefty words thrown around in reviews of Matthew Gallaway’s novel The Metropolis Case – words like “ambitious”, “epic” and “intricate” and this is all true. As the plot carries the reader across centuries and decades, visiting the past, present and future moments in the narratives of four characters linked together by the opera Tristan and Isolde, this book can indeed be called all of those things.
And yet that wasn’t what captured me. What best characterized my experience reading this book was that it was fun. Really, really fun. The most fun I’ve had getting to know characters and go on their journey in a good while. I picked it up in the middle of some incredibly stressful weeks of my life and it was an absolutely delightful escape.
For something so epic in scope, the writing itself was fanciful and playful. It was chock full of referential nods to opera and other pieces of music, art, history, and other books, and yet managed to appropriately place them so that nothing felt forced or pretentious. Even though the characters were tied by the structure, common themes and plot intersections, they were also tied by compelling and heartfelt themes of alienation, the nature of passion and meaningful work, death and loss, and finding connection. There is a current of warmth running through the words that picked me up as a reader and carried me away. And I was 100% with the book and the characters almost until the very end.
I say almost, because I have to be honest about brushing up against that wall between what is good and consistent and what personally appeals to me. Towards the end of the novel there are a few moments when the mysteries begin to unravel and hurtle towards a kind of grand reveal. Personally, what appeals to me is more of the subtle, “nod to the reader” plot twist or reveal. In this case, I need to concede that it happened the way it should happen.
Like this book, Opera is known to be epic, ambitious in time, scope and performance skill, extravagant in design. I’ve heard it called a great many things, but subtle isn’t one of them. It doesn’t always appeal to me, but done very well and in the right mood, it can be transformative. It can take you to a different state of mind.
The Metropolis Case is an invitation. I highly recommended that you just go with it.
P.S. The book’s official site is full of notations for amazing bonus, geeky, follow-along fun!