The Red Diamond is a philosophical literary comedy set in a Benedictine Abbey during the second half of the twentieth century. It follows a group of teenage students as they search for the legendary red diamond, believed to be hidden in the abbey.
The combination of its immersive atmosphere and colourful characters, and its mix of comedy and philosophy, make this novel an instant hit. The Red Diamond’s historical and religious background and philosophical overtones will appeal to fans of Umberto Eco’s The Name of The Rose, with which it shares themes, characters, and settings.
The plot begins with the protagonist Arthur’s arrival as a teenage student at the abbey known as ‘Maria zum Schnee’ (Mary of the Snows). The opening scenes of the novel also establish Arthur’s relationship with his mother. This relationship, as well as Arthur’s interactions with his fellow students – who give him the nickname ‘Nose’ due to his heightened sense of smell – and the religious figures in the abbey, are rich sources of humour in the novel.
During his school years, Arthur develops a close friendship with one of the other students, known as Viper. It is with Viper’s encouragement that Arthur becomes embroiled in a hunt for the red diamond, a priceless jewel believed to be hidden at the abbey. Together with a handful of other students, Arthur and Viper go to great lengths to discover the whereabouts of the diamond, following various tantalising leads from the religious figures at the abbey.
The novel then jumps forward to a later period in the boys’ lives, when Arthur returns to the school. These are some of the most atmospheric scenes in the novel, with Arthur describing the unnerving silence of the abbey whilst reminiscing about his schooldays. He encounters Viper again, who is as intently focussed on uncovering the legendary diamond as ever.
The Red Diamond is an evocative novel with a strong sense of place. Thomas Hürlimann’s gifted storytelling, sharp wit and philosophical talents come together to produce a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable read.