SPHINX by David Lindsay


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First US publication of a 1923 British novel, this initiates Carroll & Graf's Supernatural Library series with a resounding thud. Lindsay is best known as the author of Voyage to Arcturus, one of the first and finest of interplanetary fantasies. But his talent for exotic landscape and bizarre plot deserts him in this starchy drawing-room romance of cardboard characters and hyper-ventilating emotions. Nicholas Cabot, a young British chemist, takes lodgings in the manor house of Mereway and soon finds himself embroiled in a silly love-pentangle constructed by a rakish engineer, a stout female composer, a beautiful widow, one of the three daughters of the house, and himself. Daughter and rake woo and quarrel; rake courts composer, then threatens her with handgun; composer and daughter feud; poor Nicholas, enmeshed in this confusing nonsense, does the only sensible thing, which is to tumble for, the bewitching widow. The round-of-love continues with agonizing slowness until a climactic dance brings a bit of welcome violence. As if the plot wasn't painful enough, Lindsay macerates it still further with such lines as, ""Are you feeling misanthropic, or would you like to be joined? I can't spare Audrey, but either of the others would be delighted to cicerone you."" The unforgivable crime here is that the subplot of the novel, concerning Nicholas' invention of a machine to record dreams, holds tremendous promise and delivers a few passages of intense, almost mystical prose--especially near the end, when Nicholas and the composer achieve their joint spiritual destiny. But Lindsay, reportedly burnt by the commercial failure of Arcturus and convinced that fluff outsells vision, devoted just a smidgeon of his text to his ingenious device. The rest is piffle. The only riddle posed by this Sphinx is how Lindsay's genius abandoned him so quickly and utterly. A failure from start to finish.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1988
Publisher: Carroll & Graf