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Personal profile

Biography

Andrew Crumey is a novelist whose eight books have been translated into fifteen languages. Music, in a Foreign Language won the Saltire First Book Award; Sputnik Caledonia was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; The Great Chain of Unbeing was shortlisted for the Saltire Fiction Award. He has also been nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He studied theoretical physics at St Andrews University and Imperial College, did post-doctoral research in nonlinear dynamics at Leeds University, then worked as a schoolteacher and freelance book reviewer. He was literary editor of Scotland on Sunday  2000-06, then lecturer in creative writing at Newcastle University and research fellow at Durham Institute of Advance Study, where he did scientific work on astronomical visibility. He joined Northumbria University in 2011, and regularly reviews books for the Wall Street Journal and other papers.

Research interests

Philosophy, history, science and music are themes that have recurred throughout Andrew Crumey’s fiction. Finding the term “novel of ideas” too stuffy, he prefers “philosophical with a light touch.”

The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics inspired the alternative history in Music, in a Foreign Language, which imagined a communist Britain following wartime German occupation. It was seen as postmodernist, though Crumey was also strongly influenced by eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. This became more evident in his next two novels, Pfitz and D’Alembert’s Principle, which used creative dialogue with Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist toexplore the notion of “encylopedism” discussed in Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

The Booker-longlisted Mr Mee paid homage to Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pecuchet. Rousseau and Proust also came into the mix, in a comic novel that pondered the relationship between memoir and fiction. Mobius Dick featured – among other things – a parallel world where physicist Erwin Schrodinger visited a place resembling Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain.

Crumey’s multi-layered approach to narrative structure is influenced by music: polyphony, thematic development, separate movements with varying pace and mood. Influenced by Bakhtin, Crumey investigated the connection between space and time in narrative. Having taken the closed setting of Mann’s sanatorium as a model in Mobius Dick, Crumey drew on the Soviet closed city of Sarov for Sputnik Caledonia, which returned to the idea of a communist Britain.

The alternative history was further teased out in The Secret Knowledge, which included Walter Benjamin as a character, and noted Benjamin’s interest in the pseudo-cosmology of Blanqui. The aesthetic underpinning of Crumey’s most recent book, The Great Chain of Unbeing, is Badiou’s set-theoretic ontology. There is no consistent whole – the “story of everything” is self-contradictory.

Education/Academic qualification

Physics, PhD

30 Jun 198631 Dec 2099

Award Date: 30 Jun 1986

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