The Same River Twice by Ted Mooney

The Same River Twice, a new novel by Ted Mooney, got a rave review from New York Times’s reviewer Danielle Trussoni, who called it “mesmerizing”. The Boston Globe review calls it “a philosophical entertainment doubling as a riveting, unconventional thriller.”
The Same River Twice is a novel that reads like an arthouse film, complete with dream sequences, deja vu, and lots of Parisian night scenes. At first, I thought the main character, Odile — a street-smart young Frenchwoman who starts the action by smuggling culturally significant ceremonial flags out of the former Soviet union for money — would be a good follow-up to Lisbeth Salander, the petite computer hacker from the Millennium trilogy. But then, the moral compass of Ted Mooney’s characters began to spin so wildly that I’m not sure Stieg Larsson readers will want to make the leap from that author’s highly developed social conscience to this author’s elevation of art over all else.
In an online interview, Ted Mooney says: “What I really wanted to get at, in this book, is how people who see themselves as morally upright, and regular citizens, at the same time, blind themselves to the larger part of what’s going on around them all the time.” He successfully gives readers of his novel the experience of seeing with an artist’s eye, detached as if behind camera or easel, missing nothing.
As when confronted with new works of art, readers may wonder if The Same River Twice is a great novel or a pastiche. It’s a compelling book about borders — physical and otherwise — and the cutthroat nature of the international art world, but unexplained mystical scenes (e.g. foreshadowing dreams, deja vu, and the preternatural ability of minor character, a painter, to see into Odile’s inner being) seemed strained, and the cinematic view of the characters made me feel, as a reader, too detached to care what happens to them. My verdict: a good novel (worth reading) that should get made into a great movie.

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