Sexual obsession, insider trading and a famous work of literary criticism form the hub of "Seven Types of Ambiguity," Australian writer Elliot Perlman's ambitious second...

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Sexual obsession, insider trading and a famous work of literary criticism form the hub of “Seven Types of Ambiguity,” Australian writer Elliot Perlman’s ambitious second novel. Six people, some related by personal history, some by circumstance, are intimately affected by another person’s reckless act: the kidnapping of a small child. Seven versions of the event, its prelude and repercussions, are told in meticulous detail, each narrator with a different perspective and a different set of biases.

“Seven Types of Ambiguity”

by Elliot Perlman

Riverhead, 623 pp., $27.95

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We meet Simon, the perpetrator, an out-of-work teacher who can’t get his former girlfriend, Anna, out of his head — although they haven’t been together for more than 10 years. We hear from Simon’s psychiatrist, Alex; we hear from Anna and her workaholic, stockbroker husband, Joe; we hear from Dennis, a savvy stock analyst; we listen to Angelique, Simon’s good-as-gold prostitute friend. That’s six. The identity of number seven must remain, for plot reasons, anonymous.

Exploring the absolute nature of truth can be a terrific subject for an artist. Henry James, in his novella, “The Turn of the Screw,” provided both a satisfying ghost story and a subtle, teasing commentary on unreliable narrators. Akira Kurosawa’s stunning 1950 film, “Rashomon,” bumped the storytellers up to four, giving us a spectrum of human interactions that ranged from heroic to comic.

Coming Up

Elliot Perlman

The author of “Seven Types of Ambiguity” will read
at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book
Co. (206-624-6600;

Perlman would like to be in this kind of company, but Simon’s crime just doesn’t hold the reader through 600 plus pages. And Perlman’s people are so damn miserable: self-involved, repressed, ready to blame anyone but themselves — or, the flip side, damaged saints in modern clothes.

Two characters stay with us: Dennis and Joe, out-and-out jerks who generate a strong, arrogant life force that vibrates on the page. When their lives collapse you feel their angry, bewildered pain and you think, yeah, I know these screwed-up guys, I know how this kind of failure feels.