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Reading between the lines of history, Blake Morrison has woven a stunning novel around the few facts known about the life and work of Johann Gensfleisch, aka Gutenberg, master printer, charmer, con man and visionary -- the man who invented "artificial writing" and printed the "Gutenberg" Bible, putting thousands of monks out of work.
In a first novel that is both dazzling in its artistry and pure enchantment for the reader, Morrison gives Gutenberg's final testament: a justification and apologia dictated, ironically enough, to the kind of pretty young scribes whom his invention of movable metal type made redundant. Through the eyes of the ageing narrator, the Middle Ages are seen in a strange and vivid new light. The Plague, craft guilds, religious wars, chivalric love, sexual politics, scientific invention, the rise of capitalism -- all are here, but the human dramas they give rise to seem anything but "historical" or remote. What Morrison captures is a moment of cultural transition as dramatic and immediate as the communications revolution of today.
But, above all, there is the exasperating, endearing and finally haunting figure of Gutenberg himself a man who gambled everything -- money, honour, friendship and a woman's love -- on the greatest invention of the last millennium.
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