THE COMPASS STONE by Fernando Arrabal


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The Spanish-born playwright's second novel translated into English purports to be the memoir of an 18-year-old murderess--a strangely philosophical killer with a penchant for asking unanswerable questions. The ""discoverer"" of this bizarre narrative acknowledges its ""forced or stilted"" style, its ""startling"" semantics, and its ""disconcerting"" revelations. But that hardly prepares the reader for the narrator's endless self-interrogations, which interrupt a dispassionate recitation of her sexual soirÉes--anonymous assignations that end with a slit throat. This cipher of a woman--is she a goddess? a demon? a prophet?---spends her clays at home in the ""Mansion,"" which also houses her father (""the Maimed One"") and the two obese sisters who attend to all his needs. The old man bemoans the present age of decadence, while his narrator-daughter entertains her other men: P--, the elderly painter who gives her his first razor, a souvenir that becomes a memento mori; K--, a sumo wrestler who plans his own ritual disembowelment; S--, an amateur detective intrigued by the unsolved killings, who proclaims a spiritual affinity for the murderer; D--, a painter whose infamous party for ""depraved couples"" is a sadistic orgy that ""prefigure [s] the End of the World."" Describing S-M, bondage, and voyeurism in bland language, the narrator saves her riper prose for the insect life inhabiting her greenhouse--especially those that kill after mating. Biblical creation, legend, and the cycles of nature all figure somehow in this distended allegory, stretched to the breaking point by portentous questions (""Why did two sexes exist and not four, or seven? Was body spirit?"" and so on). Ponderous, to be sure.

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 1987
Publisher: Grove