THE HANDMAID OF DESIRE by John L’Heureux

THE HANDMAID OF DESIRE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An intermittently droll send-up of the confusions and conceits of the intelligentsia and of academic life from Stanford professor L'Heureux, author of 14 previous novels (The Shrine at Altamira, 1992, etc.). Olga Kominska, unlike most of her university colleagues, has a pretty clear mission in mind: ``Her task was to rescue some lost souls from the effects of their scandals, satisfy a few passions, answer some importunate prayers, and, on the side, to teach a little course in feminist drama and another in literary theory.'' Although her origins are never made clear, Olga's European accent gives her a certain cachet within the very hip English department of a California university struggling to remake itself into an Institute of Theory and Discourse. Olga, above such petty strife, has higher goals in mind. When Robbie Richter, who built his career on a study of the hermeneutics of The Hardy Boys, suffers what everyone hopes will be his final nervous breakdown, Olga predicts his full recovery. The general astonishment at his revival turns to widespread awe when Richter not only resumes his teaching but transforms himself into a competent scholar. A succession of apparent miracles in which Olga seemingly has a hand ensues: A barren couple conceive, a creative-writing professor completes a readable novel, and a failed socialite becomes the hostess of a successful TV talk show. Although most normal people would want to find out just who Olga is and what kind of hat she pulls her rabbits from, the academics on whom she works her magic are too removed from reality to notice that its laws are being flouted and prefer to understand her according to the categories of Foucault and Derrida--which give them less than a clue. Within a world that has banished mystery from its precincts, L'Heureux suggests, there can be no explanations. Witty and sharp, but not nasty enough for satisfying satire and too far-fetched for comedy. An in-house joke that won't play off campus.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-56947-073-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996




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