The Great Ideas

Suzanne Cleminshaw

Shortlisted for the 1999 Whitbread First Novel Award. An absorbing mystery story, a How-to book, a tour of the encyclopaedia, an etiquette guide and a history of philosophy – one of the most original and entertaining novels to have come out of America in many years.

The Monroes’ house has been abandoned for as long as Haddie can remember. Before she was born, her sister’s dead body was found on the flagstone path and no one is sure how she fell. Like the House of Atreus, this tragic event will have repercussions which effect all the characters in this strange story and, as Haddie attempts to figure out the clues to the mystery of her sister’s death, The Great Ideas takes the form of an epistemological search. Haddie trawls the encyclopaedia looking for clues, reads Plato, Aristotle, Boethius. Woven into her quest is an abundance of serendipitous details that come at the reader one after the other: about fortune telling, floating paper boats, what it feels like to forget; how to yawn with your mouth closed, flirt, levitate and charm a snake.

Slowly, as it arcs towards its tragic climax, its mixture of curiosity and knowledge will delight anyone with an enquiring mind. A truly original and ground-breaking novel.

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