The cover of Nicholas Christopher’s A Trip to the Stars bears the fiat, “A novel by the author of Veronica“, as if that were an enticement. Had I read Veronica first, I would not have read A Trip to the Stars, which is a literary proof of the fact that fate is fickle.
Veronica commences thus –
“In lower Manhattan there is an improbable point where Waverly Place intersects Waverly Place. It was there I met Veronica, on a snowy, windy night.
She was looking for her keys on the sidewalk in front of a brownstone beside the Convent of St Zita. She communicated this to me in pantomime: turning an invisible key in a lock. She wore a black coat and a wide-brimmed hat from which long black hair streamed over her shoulders. The hat shadowed her eyes, like a mask. I found the keys – a large, odd assortment on an oval key ring. Thanking me with a nod, she put it into her handbag and glanced over her shoulder toward Christopher Street. Following her gaze, I saw nothing but the streetlight on the corner, snow slanting through its cone of light, burying the fire hydrant in a drift.”
Yes, I suppose I get what I deserve for reading on. What follows are some scraps of lovely imagery and a few evocative ideas, glued together with clumps and lumps of horrid clichés – a delicate blind Japanese girl, a zany jazz combo, cats with mysterious markings, living tattoos, enigmatic old Tibetans, disappearing footprints, identical twins and ancient magicians. There are symbols galore, signifying nothing – blue and yellow birds, zigzag markings, hourglasses, oranges, the moon.
Our hapless protagonist, Leo, thrown instantly into another world, evinces no surprise. On the rare occasion when he ventures a question, he is enigmatically deflected –
“Where have you been,?” I asked.
“A long time.”
“You do have a twin sister named Viola,” I said.
At first I thought she was going to remain silent. “Yes,” she said suddenly. “But we have to see Otto now. And I need to tell you about him before we do.”
“Was it Veronica I followed to that house?”
Keko compressed her lips, but did not reply.”
When Leo returns from a trip or a dream or whatever it was – in the Amazon, or at Ralegh’s execution – (picturesque but pointless vignettes) he isn’t really surprised or worried, just hungry and thirsty and there’s a lot of eating and drinking in this book; detailed descriptions of New York takeaway Chinese food become tedious really quickly. There’s an unconvincingly mysterious woman and some (thankfully very little) creepy sex .
By now any normal human would be off, but not Leo. No, he stays for the denouement at the top of the Empire State Building (of course), even though he’s been warned about the blindingly obvious. As you have been warned. Don’t bother with Veronica. Go straight to the Stars.