MONKEY'S UNCLE by Jenny Diski


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With one foot through the looking glass, an engaging new novel from Diski (Nothing Natural, 1987, etc.) with a whimsical, if sometimes distressing, view of insanity. Charlotte FitzRoy, in a mental hospital since digging up her front garden in the nude--inappropriate behavior for a middle-aged Londoner--finds that she's not quite whole, that something is missing. She doesn't know it, but she's in this state because half of her is living down there, in some netherworld of her own imagination, where that other Charlotte is trying to hash out her troubles with Marx, Freud, Darwin, and the authoritative Jenny, an orangutan sporting high heels and a tea dress. Meanwhile, the Charlotte up here in the mental hospital is slipping in and out of a biography of Robert FitzRoy, the pious and suicidal captain of Darwin's Beagle, and possibly her ancestor. Charlotte's family and friends appreciate the seriousness of her breakdown--after all, her daughter was recently killed in a car accident, and her beloved socialist causes are tumbling down with the Berlin wall. But the fact is that Charlotte never liked her daughter, and as a geneticist she knows that insanity is in the blood; she comes from a long line of suicides and is beginning to feel it's her familial duty to join the gang. Charlotte's narrative of her past, relayed during therapy sessions with Matthew, with whom she's falling in love despite his homosexuality, ties together the discordant elements of her insanity, revealing the practicality of her newly split personality and pointing a way toward some kind of harmony. Taking up a serious topic, the British Diski offers a smart trio of narratives, the two Charlottes' and Robert FitzRoy's, creating an eclectic whole from discordant points of history. An imaginative look at the carefully crafted absurdities of a deranged mind, with judicious dashes of humor and pathos.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 258pp
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson--dist. by Trafalgar