BETRAYALS by Charles Palliser


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 Palliser (The Sensationist, 1991, etc.) has found a new voice- -or rather a dozen of them--in this razzle-dazzle Chinese box of reflexivity. Reading from the top, there's a grimly satisfied Daily Scot obituary for a distinguished scientist; a mini-Decameron in which three passengers on a snowbound train trade tales en route to the mysterious death of one of their number; a reader's report on a fledgling novelist's attempt to mix hospital romance with serial murder; a tale of revolving-door intrigue among an impenetrable French thinker's epigones; two tales of a cuckold's revenge, one fake-Arabian Nights, one back in modern Britain. The real point of Palliser's novel, however, is the convoluted net of cross- references that bind the ten stories together not only in the thematic terms announced by his title (romantic triangles, literary sycophancy, and plagiarism head the list of betrayals), but also in terms of wildly unlikely echoes of character functions, names, and secrets. For instance, the three storytellers of Chapter 2 turn up in preposterous new roles in Chapter 7, and the scientist memorialized in the opening pages can't rest in peace until he's tied into an over-the-top murder yarn at the very end. Along the way, Palliser deftly parodies deconstructionist criticism, the middlebrow style of Jeffrey Archer, three different pulp genres, perhaps the most obtuse serial killer's diary in fiction, countless historical takes on Jack the Ripper--and, inevitably, his own professional anxieties, as dramatized by (among others) Cyril Pattison, the fictional author of the fictional novels, Quintessence and The Sensation Seeker (see Palliser's Quincunx, as well as The Sensationist). A good time is had by all, even if the plots, individually and collectively, never snap shut as satisfyingly as you'd like or expect. Palliser has produced a lark, a romp, an overripe encyclopedia of nonsense bound to appeal to the sort of literary gameplayers who'll find their own likenesses prominently displayed herein.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-345-36959-9
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994


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