Posted by: chartroose | January 24, 2008

The Rule of Four

Ian Caldwell &
Dustin Thomason

After many hours of teeth-gnashing and groaning, not to mention falling asleep after reading a couple of pages at a time, I finally finished The Rule of Four today. For a lazy reader such as myself, this book was just too much work. There were many times when I felt like I should toss it in the garbage, but there was something compelling about it, and I found myself struggling on because I had the feeling that it would eventually be worth the effort. It wasn’t.

The Rule of Four was written by two school buddies; Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason. I often hesitate to buy coauthored fiction because there usually seems to be one writer who is more talented than the other, and you can tell it in the writing. I think that was the case with this novel. Sometimes I’d read a section that was well written, and at other times the writing would fall flat. Maybe I kept reading in the hope that the better of the two young authors would finally take over altogether. It didn’t seem to happen, although the last third of the novel was smoother and more cohesive than anything that had come before, so maybe the more talented of the two wrote most of the climax and conclusion.

I’m not going to bash The Rule of Four completely, though, at least not until the next paragraph. The authors chose a very difficult subject to write about, and they ARE young, so I guess I’ll cut them a little slack. The story revolves around four Princeton roomates who experience some deadly adventures during their senior year. Paul, the most studious of the four, is writing his thesis on the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an actual living, breathing five-hundred-year-old text. There are some older Hypnerotomachia scholars who want to steal his research because he has accomplished more in the several years he’s devoted to the book than they have in their entire lifetimes. The main plot centers on what happens to the roomates as they try to keep Paul’s research out of the clutches of these pitiful and frightening older men.

Okay, now it’s time for the bashing. The major theme of the novel is obsession. Paul, and to a lesser extent, his roomate Tom, are obsessed with the Hypnerotomachia, often to the detriment of every other aspect of their lives. Paul (who never really had a life before his research anyway, being a poor unfortunate orphan and all) eats and sleeps the Hypnerotomachia. Paul’s best friend, Tom, nearly destroys his relationship with his cookie-cutter girlfriend because of his own obsession with Paul’s research. All this obsessing paled in comparison to the true underlying obsessive current of the book: Princeton! A noticeable portion of the The Rule of Four was a paean to Princeton. I didn’t care about the “naked games”; I didn’t care about the eating clubs; I didn’t care about any of the Ivy League details, and, by the end, I didn’t care about what happened either. I wanted an exciting story with fully-developed characters and a plot that was easy to follow. None of these elements were well-developed. The relationships between characters were wooden and at times the plot was a total yawner.

One good thing has come out of writing this entry. I think I’ve figured out who is the more talented of the two authors. I’ll never tell, after all, there is a miniscule possibility that I may be mistaken. NOT!



  1. Oh, I read this back when it came out. Well, not all of it, having given up on it after about 100 pages. It was just one of the weakest novels I’d ever picked up. And let’s face it, the only reason it got published was because The Da Vinci Code was making waves and, when that starts happening, publishers try to ride that wave with any old toss sifted from the slushpile that has even half a whiff of similarity.

    It was a Princeton love-in, with no action whatsoever. I remember the tricky sort of dilemna the guy was put through: do I stay in and work on my essay or do I go out with my girldfiend? Ooh, torture!

  2. Yep, I absolutely agree! Even the so-called “suspensful” parts of the book were real yawners.

    Now, because of this novel and “The DaVinci Code” I avoid all similar novels. It’s really too bad because there might be some good ones out there. Oh well!

  3. I think the only novel – at least from what I’ve read – worth reading in this esoteric subject area is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I doubt any novel seeking to do conspiracy theories will ever come close to this one.

  4. Damn, another one to read! I’ve never read Eco, but I’ve seen “The Name of the Rose” in movie form. It was a good movie, but I’ll bet the book was 10 times better.

    Thanks, Stewart. I’ve been checking out your blog, BTW. It’s amazing how well-read you are!

  5. The book of The Name Of The Rose was light years ahead of the movie, which focused (and probably rightly so) on the book’s murder mystery angle. But, within the pages, there’s so much more, notably discussions on esoteric and intriguing subjects.

    Thanks for your comment. I wish I could say I was well read, but sadly I’m not. I’ve barely scratched the surface of literature. Reading one or two books by more obscure writers doesn’t make anyone well read. One day, once I’ve devoured – or waded through – the classics and a number of authors’ bodies of work then maybe.

  6. I love this book. I’m a junior in high school, so I’m obviously not as well read as all of you, but I liked the mystery part of The Rule of Four. I also think that all of you missed the main point that the authors were trying to make. This novel is about choosing between two different loves; it’s either you choose your love for learning or you choose your love for your soul mate. Either way you lose something that was very important to you. The plot may have been a bit all over the place, but the message was still loud and clear.

    Whoever is insane enough to compare this book to The DaVinci Code has been hit on the head a bit too many times. This book is completely different; it is written differently and it is more about getting a point across than telling an interesting story. Yes, they are both about an unsolved mystery, but that doesn’t mean that every mystery needs to be compared to the one before it.

  7. The rule of four was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Believe me when i say this is a good book, im a well read person who has stumbled to 2 many bad books, and this was a refreshing change. i love Paul from the story.

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