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From Welsh novelist Wall (The School of Night, 2002, etc.), an odd, meandering account of a wayward seminarian’s attempts to uncover the mysteries surrounding a mad 18th-century poet,.

With the solitary exception of Stalin, seminary dropouts rarely go on to achieve much in the way of worldly success. Christopher Bayliss is a case in point: a meek and tentative Englishman, Christopher spent several years in Rome preparing for his ordination only to chuck it all at the last minute with no very clear idea of what he would do instead. He returned to Britain and enrolled as a graduate student at Leeds, where he began to research the life of one Richard Pelham, an obscure poet of the Augustan Age as renowned in his own time for his madness as for his verse. Christopher finds Pelham at once repellent and fascinating, and he continues his investigations even after quarreling with his adviser and dropping out of the university. He becomes a sales rep with a printing firm that specializes in making reproductions of museum prints, eventually rises to director of the company, then gets forced out when his immediate supervisor is found to be a swindler and embezzler. After he’s injured in a car crash, Christopher goes home to live with his mother and continue his research while living on his disability benefits. As he delves deeper into the life of Pelham, he becomes convinced that the man suffered not from madness but from demonic possession, and Christopher finds himself pressed once more into the deepest recesses of Catholic theology as he attempts to make some sense of the poor man’s maladies. But eventually the question arises: Is Christopher trying to understand Pelham, or himself? The demons that have possessed Christopher may not require exorcism, but they do demand a long-postponed coming to terms with his past. Sooner or later, a reckoning will need to be made.

Erudite and graceful, but this one somehow loses its point halfway through, running on and on to no apparent end.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-28772-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2002


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