Drawing on Hoare’s experience of the natural world, and of the elements that shape our contemporary lives, from suburbia to the wide open sea, Hoare enters 15th century artist Albert Dürer's time machine.
... magnificent ... a captivating journey through art and life, nature and human nature, biography and personal memoir. Giants walk the earth: Dürer and Martin Luther, Shakespeare and Blake, Thomas Mann, Marianne Moore, WH Auden, David Bowie. Hoare summons them like Prospero, his writing the animating magic that brings the people of the past directly into our present and unleashes spectacular visions along the way ... Anyone familiar with his sea trilogy, starting with the prize-winning Leviathan in 2008, will know the liquid beauty of Hoare’s prose and his apparently limitless gift for witness and insight. He is as powerfully struck by the wonders of this world as Dürer. Each chapter, no matter how wide its flow, is anchored in a particular image by Dürer – the hare, the patient greyhound, the astounding self-portraits – and it is extraordinary to see them anew through Hoare’s eyes ... Hoare’s feeling for Dürer exceeds anything I have ever read ... most affecting is the way that Dürer’s life permits Hoare to recall passages of his own ... Reading this book like a person mesmerised by cosmic events in the sky, I scarcely understood the significance of the opening encounter between the author and a capuchin monkey. Its meaning only becomes fully apparent towards the end, deepening the narrative immeasurably. The revelation must stay inside Albert and the Whale, which is his greatest work yet. But it is further testimony to Hoare’s exceptional empathy for both man and beast, for seeing through the eyes of a primate, a greyhound or an artist.
Hoare writes with the license of the nonexpert; you can feel the delight he takes in being unbound by anything but his enthusiasms. He is alternately precise and concealing. His biographical sections are both elliptical and redolent of entire lives. His art criticism is often stirring ... Another of the author’s pivots might predict whether you find his approach enchanting or somewhat dizzying: For about 60 pages near its middle, the book becomes a group literary biography, primarily of the novelist Thomas Mann and the poet Marianne Moore...This extended section is certainly connected to Dürer: Moore and Mann both referenced him in their own work; Auden considered him in the lectures. But it requires you to stretch along with Hoare ... Somehow, Hoare’s frequent cuts between the present, the recent(ish) past and more distant history end up feeling like no cuts at all; instead of whiplash or disorientation, what results is an almost calm feeling of all these times existing simultaneously, in the moment of reading ... If Hoare’s overall tone is self-serious, he allows glimpses of the ridiculousness that can come with fixation ... This book requires patience, and a mild tolerance for passing clouds of pretension or obscurity; but these hazards are just residual effects from the forceful weather system that is Hoare’s imagination. He almost inevitably begins writing at one point about W.G. Sebald, a kindred spirit whom he came to know. Hoare’s recap of Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn is the summary of one digressive book nested inside another. Hoare says that book 'pulls you in like the tide.' And if you just get in far enough, so does this one.
... an ecstatic romp through several centuries of art, literature, and natural history. The name Dürer might conjure images of dark, narrow streets and half-timbered houses in old German towns, ancient Gothic script, and woodcuts so finely executed they take forever to figure out. Mr. Hoare gives us instead a thoroughly modern Dürer, a dreamer, a visionary, our contemporary ... Mr. Hoare’s most experimental work to date, there is water everywhere, and the great mystery of life remains intact. Sometimes Mr. Hoare might dispense a little too quickly with knowable things: There are mistakes in his quotations ... Yet I doubt that any other writer has grasped so deeply the feral, sensual undercurrent of Dürer’s art or has felt so acutely the artist’s attunement to the fierce animals that live in his works ... Mr. Hoare’s book is best read as a fiendishly erudite daydream, in which there are no boundaries and anything becomes possible. The author invites the reader to step inside his capacious mind, a place so magical that Albrecht Dürer may fuse with his 19th-century admirer Oscar Wilde ... It is perhaps Dürer’s greatest achievement (and now also Mr. Hoare’s) to have shown us that this fantastical world is not so strange after all, that, in its fearsome splendor, it must be ours too.