MASKS by Barry Titus


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A private prose-nightmare, which too often conceals what is actually a striking if bizarre story. Emil Vallon, a young Frenchman in the mid 19th century, comes to the Society Islands to collect primitive sculptures for the art dealers who employ him. Ostensibly, he hopes to create a fad for these sculptures, which are weirdly and marvellously described abstracts of Mar gods. Actually, Vallon is a decadent, sensual young man-of-many-affairs, searching for a role in life. Fragments of his ""journal"" are interspersed with the reactions to his case (mostly negative) by the French colony. Vallon has a bored affair with Mile, Tinola, several brushes with tired French colonial intellectuals. Then, after various ordeals, he marries a Marquesan woman, and tries to go native. But in a revolution between Marquesans and French he attempts to remain neutral, without responsibilities. Finally, the Marquesans force his life role upon him. Their ""Maku"", a man chosen to represent the god of darkness because he has killed wantonly, and who must thereafter kill everyone he meets, has died. Vallon, in a fit of jealousy and boredom, kills his wife. And the book ends as the Marquesans hand Vallon his new role...the black costume of the Maku... This queen but powerful story is told in such compressed, odd and far-fetched images that it exasperates the reader. Cause and effect, ideas, are telescoped into impressions as interior and disturbing as those of an inarticulate, bad dream. It almost seems as though the author communicates unwillingly, and certainly for a very special audience.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1961
Publisher: Knopf