The popular British author who seems to alternate ambitious blockbusters (Birds Without Wings, 2005, etc.) with wispy makeweight fictions (e.g., the wafer-thin Red Dog) tests his devoted readership’s patience again.
This time we’re treated to a dual narrative shared by Chris, a middle-age English widower ostensibly mourning the death of his sexually unresponsive wife (“a Great White Loaf”), and the exotic girl, Roza, whom he impulsively picks up, mistaking her for a prostitute. Chris is Alan Bates, timidly hoping Anthony Quinn’s ebullient Zorba the Greek will teach him to shed propriety and learn to dance (so to speak). Roza, who perhaps actually is the Bulgarian Serb that she intermittently claims to be, is a gifted liar, and the sexually stunning life force of Chris’s wildest dreams. They continue to meet, usually in the dilapidated apartment building Roza shares with several countercultural types (e.g., their very own BDU: Bob Dylan Upstairs). Roza regales the lovestruck Chris with fiery tales of her (mostly erotic) experiences, including an incestuous romp with her father, a devout follower of strongman Marshall Tito. Many of this painstakingly attenuated book’s brief chapters are vehicles for canned information about the sufferings of Eastern European minority populations during times of political interest, and hence of inevitable interest. But everything eventually comes back to Roza’s grandiose self-dramatizations, and it becomes impossible to take it, or her, seriously when we’re frequently subjected to brain-dead, space-filling chapter titles (“Can You Fall in Love if You’ve Been Castrated?”) and the kind of sonorous sentimentality that belongs in a zero-budget film noir (e.g., “Even inside every damn fucked-up woman there’s some sweet little girl”).
A malodorous turkey. Corelli’s Mandolin it ain’t.