Richard Powers: Orfeo


The latest addition to my website is Richard PowersOrfeo. This one follows Powers’ usual themes of technology, music and politics, telling the story of Peter Els, musician and scientist. At the start of the novel, Els is seventy and living alone. He is experimenting with gene splicing. We later learn that he is, in fact, trying to compose with DNA instead of musical notes. He has been a composer of modern classical music, which has had some limited critical success but less commercial success. We follow his career as a musician and his personal life, while, interspersed with this story, we see the results of his gene splicing – a visit from the Joint Security Task Force and then a visit from various people in biohazard suits, at which point he runs. His life on the run, something of a revisit of his past life, takes up the rest of the novel as we learn of his earlier life. It is another first-class work by Powers, not his best, but certainly one to show that he is one of the best living US novelists.

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