The Combinations – Louis Armand – structure


It was like walking around inside an overly elaborate riddle – the kind of riddle designed to conceal a solution that was either too obvious or didn’t exist.

Early in Louis Armand’s ‘The Combinations’ you are advised, you are a “walking around inside and overly elaborate riddle”.

A novel that runs to 888 pages is always going to intrigue me, when it contains eight sections, each containing eight chapters, I begin to salivate; what is the riddle here?

Interestingly I have not seen a review that has picked up on the structure being a chess board. The eight sections all named after something relating to chess…Rooks, Bishops, Queen, Pawn etc.

Some of my most popular posts here have included diagrams of novels, the building in George Perec’s ‘Life A User’s Manual’, the alternate reading of Julio Cortázar’s ‘Hopscotch’, today I’ll add another, the sixty-four chapters drawn up as a chessboard…


“Each square…is singular in its essence, yet in its outward aspect appears identical to every other square. Thirtytwo black, thirtytwo white. Each bounded on two sides, on three sides, or on four – but never on one side alone. Never unbounded. Each open to its other, its double, its counterpart – the one to the two, the two to the three – the duality to the dialectic, the trinity – & from the trinity to the hidden tetragram. Just as each piece is not merely a part, but a multiplicity – without doing anything it already represents an array of potentialities, a visible dimension bound to other unfathomed dimensions, in space and in time…”

Louis Armand is giving us clues to solve the riddle;

Chess reveals that this is what intelligent men have always really meant when speaking of a Creator. Chess, my young friend, is the blueprint of all the possible worlds from which Creation itself flows forth!

Solve the chess riddle and you will solve all riddles;

Were you aware…that the Ancients who devised the rules of chess did so in the belief they were calculating the future? It’s true. In India, long ago, their holymen considered the warring of opposite forces to be the source of all creation – black&white – good&evil – time, space, matter, energy! The game of chess, held by the Ancients of Days to be sacred, was really an infinity machine computing all the variables, all the possible outcomes, all the paths of evolution & extinction, as the very Mind of God!

Combinations, an “infinity machine”.

Having a simple look at the early chapters there appears to be a link to the pieces, chapter one has containment behind bars (Castle/Rook?), Chapter three a clergyman (Bishop?), Chapter four a coronation… will this theme continue?

Using my chessboard above I have noticed that the main protagonist, Nêmec, only appears in the white squares…will this continue?

Are the relationships between each side of the squares continued the further into the centre of the chessboard?

Will eight pawns (or 16 for that matter) be represented?

Will the references to games continue in each chapter?

I am mapping out each chapter as I read it to see if there are any linkages, I am attempting to decipher the concealed riddle.

Back to the epigraph, is this book “designed to conceal a solution that was either too obvious or didn’t exist”?

Further reading will inform I’m sure…



6 thoughts on “The Combinations – Louis Armand – structure

    • It was on that list, the Guardian reviewer hated it, he complained about repeated pages (probably got a dud copy). Reading the review I think he missed the point. Having said that I’m only 50 pages in!!!


  1. Hi Tony,

    It appears the chessboard picture diagram is marked incorrectly. I don’t know if this will affect the overall riddle. The board alignment is correct, but the A-H and #’s are on the wrong sides. Ranks (the horizontal rows) are marked 1-8, Rank 1 being the lowest row, or the one closest to the “white” player. Files (the vertical columns) are marked A-H, File A being the furthest left column, and the H-File furthest on the right (once again, this is from white’s perspective, which every standard chess board bases its view from).

    So Chapter 1, Section 1 (A1): “En Passant [They Say]” would actually begin on the bottommost left black square where the current diagram shows Chapter 8, Section 57 “The Wrong Square / Hang me with Slansky!”

    Unfortunately, you can’t just simply rotate the board counter-clockwise, because then the alignment would be wrong (“light is right” [the bottommost right square should be white in order to properly set the pieces in their correct positions at the beginning]). Once again, I have no clue if this would actually impact the “game,” but thought I’d share. Looking forward to see where, if anywhere, Armand goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by and I’ll update and do a new post. Really appreciate the feedback, let’s see if an updated chessboard makes more sense. Bear with me for a few days whilst I update.


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