Reviews of Investigation, the (1959)
Review by ropie (2005-11-01)
Lem is perhaps best known for his science-fiction books but his ideas work very well here in this unusual detective novel.
The plot is quite gripping from the outset and seemingly straightforward. The main issues are introduced early, through the usual Eastern-European medium of a group of scientsts and professionals arguing in a smokey room (isn't it always the way?).
When I read Lem I often have the feeling I am watching a piece of bad theatre. His characters seem to 'over-act' and become melodramatic, quite often at seemingly inappropriate moments. In addition his backgrounds and descriptive passages read like set pieces and facades rather than real objects or locations. His 1950s London could really be anywhere but it has been populated with certain stereotypical conditions and places (thick fogs, crumbling guest houses, etc).
None of this is to the detrement of 'The Investigation' though. Its oppressively confusing and sinister atmosphere is made surreal by the slightly twisted location. Equally strange are the characters (both living and dead!) who all have a habbit of turning up just as required, like actors from the wings.
The plot resonates between factual information, dreams and dream-like happenings, and scientific ideas. In this way the reader is never quite sure just what they are meant to believe, or which thread of the 'investigation' they are actually supposed to be following.
If you enjoy Lem's science fiction then this is an extremely good way to discover his other writing.