The Riddle of the Sphinx

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

Based on Buddhist ideas, this is a deeply philosophical novel that I found rather too intelligent for its own good. The narrative style is unusual in that it diverges in the three narratives, showing different paths that the characters could have taken, which can be a little confusing. All of the narratives are concerning men struggling with homosexuality but I though the author's approach was reminiscent of the kind of morality type novels where the reader is warned that relationships of this kind can only come to a bad or unhappy end! Certainly the relationships are described in the most unerotic ways and skimmed over as much as possible.  I found myself getting frustrated by all the padding - too many characters, lack of focus on plot and characters. I think there are much better litfic books out there which are more readable and less likely to make you feel dense and unsatisfied by the end!
Was this review helpful?
Sometimes stepping outside one's comfort zone for reading works and sometimes it just doesn't. This is a case of the latter I'm afraid. The book is historically structured comprising of three major periods in the central character's life. Each is largely self-contained and is written in a style that is easily grasped. As other reviewers have noted, it provides an interesting insight into pre-revolution Persia and the collapse of the regime overseen by the Shah. Seen through a child's eyes from a position of affluence through to exile, the first part of the story is probably the most rewarding. The issues in later time periods provide a reflection on gey love and how it fits within the timeframe.

At times it was difficult to differentiate the central character from significant others around him as the point of view was not always clear. Nevertheless, there is strong characterisation as well as contextualisation to make the story meaningful.

The pace is slow, there is a steady progression between scenes with occasional periods of tension, but this isn't a story but rather it conforms to the style of autobiography.
Was this review helpful?
I received this book from netgalley, and wanted to submit a more thorough honest review than I normally do. The book was probably more a 3.5 than a 4.

This book does explore many concepts that I am intrigued with currently, particularly east thought, and the state of the current financial/cultural climate. I was warmed most by his description of Iran just before the Revolution. I think an exploration of how different choices we make alter our lives could have been done better. It was still enjoyable to read. It is interesting how narratives shift and change, we see an imagine in today’s society of who terrorists are but not how they are made.

What I find most fascinating and the aspects are were most drawn to are how the story of how religion is warped by people to gain power and control to move people to go against their nature to act in ways that are generally antithetical to personal beliefs if not a total offense to actual scriptural texts.
Was this review helpful?
A good read that didn't quite live up to my (high) expectations.

I was drawn to this book by the protagonist's Iranian childhood, Princeton education, NYC legal career.  What an amazing life trajectory.  And as other reviewers have noted, we Americans don't get a lot of fiction dealing with Iranian American characters.

And yet this novel went very slooooowly for me.  I just wasn't that drawn in by the plot or the writing.   Lots of telling, not enough showing, especially in the romantic and sexual aspects of the story.
Was this review helpful?
Absolutely brilliant book, the best first-time read for a while. Very well written, not a dull moment, and ended up being a very different story than it felt throughout. Mesmerising!
Was this review helpful?
Thank you NetGalley for the advance read copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This is the story of Kevyan/Eric and three points in his life.  He grew up in Tehran right before the revolution and what it was like when it was time to get out.  We then see him at Princeton for College trying to find himself and love.  Lastly we see him as an adult 30 years later, successful, married with daughters.

This book is leaving me scratching my head.  I am not sure if I liked it or not.  It is not a light read, but not a heavy read either.  If you go by the definition of a good book being something that touches you on some level - whether laughter, fear, insightfulness, etc - then this was a good book.  I did feel like it was a college thesis paper turned into a novel, yet I was able to take away some nuggets that made me think and reflect and for that, I feel it was a good book.

The main character is well formed, the secondary characters are not as evolved but serve their purpose.

If this review reads with ambiguity, that is because, after digesting what I read and sleeping on it, I am still at odds.  Perhaps some may even construe that as a sign of a good book.
Was this review helpful?
I sincerely wanted to like this book but I feel this story is still very much in rough draft form. The constant interruptions of expository passages make the story line fragmented and frustrate the reader. The history elements were fascinating but I wish they were better woven in the story line. Finally, the ending left me cold and felt like a college essay.
Was this review helpful?
The Riddle of the Sphinx by Alexandre Montagu was given to me thru Net Galley for an honest review.  The Riddle of the Sphinx was truly a unique, wonderful, thrilling, and at times, heartbreaking novel.  When first meeting Keyvan, we get the backdrop of the dramatic change in Iran. Keyvan and his family flee out of Iran,  as he tries to navigate thru the changes around him,  he must also learn to navigate his own heart.  The next chapter in this wondrous book, Eric is an undergraduate  at Princeton University. Eric tries to put aside of the uneasiness of the sexual feelings that he has for one of his classmates, and no longer can brush them aside. Eric understands that how he feels is normal, despite the fact others feel they must hide them (their sexuality) for it is forbidden for them to love someone of the same sex.  The third chapter in The Riddle of the Sphinx, Eric has a very secure job with a very prestigious law firm, but beneath all of that, he is not truly who he is suppose to be.  Once again, Eric is fighting against himself, but he is hurting the very people around him, including himself.  Eric's journey continues with him realizing that he should not punish himself for the way he feels, his choices(or the lack there of), and take it out on the very people around him.   I love this book because it pulls at me, it challenges me, not to mention the underlying meanings within the book. Thank you Alexandre Montagu for writing this novel, and taking me on Eric's journey.
Was this review helpful?
2.5 "sincere, embryonic, convoluted" stars !!

Thank you to Netgalley, the author and Persepolis Publishing for a copy of the book in exchange for a review.

This is a difficult review to write as I read a highly unfinished book still in very early stages of development. The book should not have been published as is. This book had the potential to be a four or five star book full of passion, historical interest and life wisdoms. Instead I read a book that was extremely sincere but severely lacking in cohesiveness, inconsistent writing and possessed too many disparate ideas for a book of this length.

The plotlines in parts one and two had potential to be extremely fascinating. Part one told of a wealthy family's struggles with the rise of the Ayottolah Khomeini and the fall of the Shah in Iran. The second part was the discovery of deep and beautiful gay love at Princeton University. Both stories were told in a flat and linear fashion and the characters were never allowed to meander, develop and truly grow. The third part of the book was such a mess that I am not sure if it should even remain. The dream sequences were so contrived and the discovery of Buddhist profundities was extremely far fetched.

This book deserves to be edited, reworked, edited again, workshopped and then presented to the world again. I do believe that that there is a ruby here but alas it has yet to be mined.
Was this review helpful?
I voluntarily tried to read and review an advanced copy of Riddle of the Sphynx. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

There are only two positive things I can say about this novel:  1.  the cover was very cool, and 2. it begins with an interesting enough scene.  After that, it really went downhill fast.  From an actual narrative, it turned into some kind of history of Tehran very quickly and remained for way too long.  By the time some sort of flashback was reintroduced, I was so bored and angry that I had spent so much time reading something so dry and likely irrelevant to the plot that I had difficulty even remembering what was going on before the history lesson.  Alexandre Montagu needs to decide exactly what genre he/she would like to write and do that.  I only read 5% of this book before I had enough.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!!!  (I am sorry. I really tried to read this one.)
Was this review helpful?
Without a doubt, one of the worst books I’ve read in years. It’s 1 in a thousand for all the wrong reasons. Whoever wrote the jacket summary for the novel, should have plunged ahead and written the whole thing. Some thoughts on this “parallel universe” atrocity. 

The vocabulary and sentence structure are pretentious and highly annoying. Did the author right click “synonyms” every other word while writing? “A voluptuousness reminiscent of an odalisque”. 
Was fulgurant an SAT word the author failed at the time? I can’t think of any reason for it to be used so repetitively. Look at you and your big brain, graduating from Princeton. 

Already telling the reader what the symbolism means in case it was lost on them. Persistently and constantly taking the reader outside of the story to admire the writer’s own prowess.  Endless musing on what could be if only the protagonist had any sort of self-awareness. Ironic when you think about it. 

I’m almost positive no editor touched this novel. That’s not true, I am sincerely hoping no editor touched it. The only interesting part was reading about the Iranian Revolution, and Wikipedia hands out that info already. 

All told, a ham-fisted novel that’s best left behind. Perhaps the author always had a dream of writing the Next Great American Novel, and feels stifled in his law practice. I don’t know the motivation, but here’s to hoping that itch is scratched.
Was this review helpful?
Book starts with a lot of potential, but ultimately does not deliver

The author starts from a point where the possibilities seem endless.  An upper class 
Iranian family, Iran on the cusp of revolution, the fall into religious despotism. But he falls into pedantry instead of storytelling.  I am not a literature major, so I don’t care for excessive flowery descriptions.  

To me this book reads as a first attempt by a new novelist with promise, but he needs to engage a ruthless editor to pare his work into a well crafted story.  I hope his next novel will be more successful.
Was this review helpful?
I received a copy via Netgalley in return for an honest review, for which I kindly thank them.

I was surprised by what I got, and I am sorry to say, but the novel is not quite what I had expected.

A summary on the backflap says:

From a desperate escape on horseback out of revolutionary Iran to the glittering nightclubs of Paris, from forbidden passion in the halls of Princeton to the high-stakes drama of a New York law practice, THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX achieves the rare feat of echoing long after the last page.

A psychological drama that unfolds through the lens of alternate realities, the novel explores free will, destiny and the many guises and disguises of an individual’s identity: A young boy in the elite social circle of the royal Iranian Pahlavi court in the 1970s suffers an abrupt disruption of his privileged life when the Shah and his 2,500-year-old monarchy fall. A Princeton scholar’s promising future is derailed by an obsessive love affair. A corporate lawyer at the pinnacle of his career at a prestigious New York law firm begins to question his picture-perfect life.

I found it hard to get into the story. Grandiloquent and strange use of language, and despite the interesting storyline, it took me quite a long time for me to finish the novel. 
Interesting theme, but it just didn't worked out for me. 
I am sorry, but not for me.
Was this review helpful?
Wasn't sure what to make of this one from the description, but was intrigued enough to give it a request. It started brilliantly, and I was thoroughly enjoying it. I found the history of Iran fascinating, but that rather quickly devolved into what felt like a super-extended flashback, and that's when it lost me... It felt like the author couldn't quite decide what he wanted to write or how he wanted to frame it, and apparently he didn't get much help from his editor because this one meanders seemingly without purpose for a long time and then feels like a different story altogether when it resumes. 

There's great promise, because as I said the beginning was excellent, but I really struggled with this one from a surprisingly early point given that excellence...
Was this review helpful?
This was an interesting read for me. I enjoyed the story and was intrigued by the different culture. On the one hand, I loved that being so central to the story and it drew me in but on the other hand, it also became a bit too bogged down with details for someone unfamiliar with the nuances of the Middle East. Maybe if it were told in a less professorial way, it would have been easier to take in as part of the book as a whole. I think it took away from the flow of the plot instead of what I would imagine the intention was, which would be to inform Westerners about a different culture and that perspective. I think several of the storylines in the narrative were absolutely well-intended and needed voices in Western literature today and I do appreciate the effort. 
Overall, my positive experience with this outweighs my negatives, so I would recommend this to other readers. 

#TheRiddleOfTheSphinx #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
I began with great enthusiasm. The book wore me down. It became too didactic and complex. I lost the threads of the story and lost my way in it. I put it down and have yet to return to it.........
Was this review helpful?
How do I begin a review of a novel that kept me captive from page one and didn’t release me until the very end? I didn’t want to break for work, family, friends, or anything. How can I do this book justice? Dear readers, I will try.

Eric (Keyvan) fled Iran as a child during the Islamic revolution and grew up in Paris. He later studied Comparative Literature at Princeton. That is one scenario. What would have happened if he was forced to stay in Iran? So much of one’s life (or death) is determined by a single decision or act made by either the individual or at the hands of someone else.

As a young boy he questioned his sexuality, but at Princeton he knew what he wanted…Mark. He was so obsessed with him that he couldn’t see any of the warning signs or even the bigger picture.

Whether it was an analysis of Proust’s La Recherche, or Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Eric could discern the flaws of the characters and the reasons for their ultimate downfall, but he was unable to see this in his own life.

Now as a high-priced New York attorney in a loveless marriage, at age forty-four he is reevaluating his life and the decisions he has made. That is another scenario.

The Riddle of the Sphinx provides several possible outcomes and we keep asking ourselves, “What if…?” Though author  Alexandre Montagu does get philosophical, he doesn’t belabor the points. That is, you can enjoy the story simply on its own.

Montagu provides an intelligent story-line without compromising the human or emotion. At all times he is completely aware of the unawareness of his characters. Each one is deftly portrayed, and the images are vivid.

We learn of the history of twentieth-century Iran and how it contributed to Eric’s identity.  Events are described in detail, but they’re never mundane, whether from a personal or historical perspective.

There are so many layers to The Riddle of the Sphinx that it would be a perfect book club read. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best book I have read in a long time.
Was this review helpful?
The book seemed  to be 3 different stories.  It begins with a young lad and his socially elite  family finding themselves desperate to get out of Iran after the downfall of the Shah in the 70’s.   At the end of this section the lad finds himself in love with one of his male classmates.    Section two involves Eric in Princeton who is fanatical about his homosexual romance.  This emotional episode found me skipping paragraphs  and wondering why it was so important to the story..  The final section  tells of a highly successful lawyer, married with kids.   I cannot say it was one of my favourite stories although I did recognize the author’s excellent writing style,.
Was this review helpful?
I didn't get beyond the first couple of pages. From the reviews I've seen there maybe is a good story, but I felt I was reading something written for an English exam. It was too laboured for me to continue. I normally plough on regardless, but unfortunately I just couldn't get past the writing style. Sorry!
Was this review helpful?
I absolutely loved this book. From the outset it drew me in. I enjoyed how it jumped between different worlds using the same or similar characters. In places it perfectly captures young love and infatuation. An enjoyable and engaging read that also was informative about Iran pre and post Shah rule as well as the Ivy League in America. I would love to read more by this author.
Was this review helpful?