Meanwhile, in Another Part of the Story

Digressions, odd patterns and puns animate Emma Richler’s oddball novel

Some novels are likely to be better on a second reading. Novels like Michael Ondaajte’s In the Skin of a Lion, in which style and detail are more central than plot, reward rereadings, and I suspect the same is true of Emma Richler’s strange new novel. An otherwise heartbreaking love story, Be My Wolff keeps the reader at a distance through its style, its interest in scientific fact and in folklore, and its turn always to some story other than the one at hand. While the third-person narration is roving and kaleidoscopic—it jumps quickly into perspectives as divergent as Charles Dickens, Tsar Alexander I and a rat named Rat—there is a sense that the novel is trying to hide from itself. The characters observe each other obsessively, but the real pain of their lives hides from them. It is as though one is witnessing a series of coy psychoanalytic sessions whose deeper meaning the reader is required to...