Alembic is an unsettling novel about madness and alchemy, epistemology and rock and roll, magic and perversion. Thomas Graves, a young antiquarian, works for ALEMBIC, a British government office investigating the contemporary applications of the secrets of alchemy. The strange world of alchemy, however, is as eerie as the rock and roll world of Thomas’s friend Nicholas Spark, leader of a Led Zeppelin-like band called Celestial Praylin. Moving between these worlds, colorfully conveyed in d’Arch Smith’s sonorous prose – at times elegant, at times comic – Thomas Graves feels his grip on reality constantly imperilled; his attraction to the fourteen-year-old daughter of one of his colleagues complicates his existence further. A dramatic turn of events brings all of his fears and fancies out in the open, suggesting finally that the world is as mad as Thomas thought himself to be. Alembic is itself an alembic, a vessel that allows things to disintegrate and be transformed into new, refined substances. Set largely in the early 1980s, Alembic ends in the early years of the twenty-first century as alchemy engineers a new world order of darkness and perfection, destruction and eternal life, concluding a novel of great originality and ill-boding.
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