DOCTOR CRIMINALE by Malcolm Bradbury


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Known for his satirical novels about British academics (Rates of Exchange, 1983, etc.), Bradbury here examines the way we treat cultural icons. The icon in question is Dr. Bazlo Criminale, a product of Mitteleuropa and the world's most publicized (yet most mysterious) philosopher. Bradbury's narrator is Francis Jay, a brash young London journalist hired by a TV company to get the goods on Criminale for a feature on Great Thinkers of the Age of Glasnost. He travels first to Vienna, where he is stonewalled by Professor Otto Codicil, Criminale's biographer (who really wrote the book is another mystery); but in Budapest Criminale's publisher and former mistress, glamorous Hazy Ildiko, seeing her chance to shop in the West (it's 1990, the Wall is down, Hungarians now live to shop), leads Francis to the glitzy conference on an Italian lake where Criminale both appears and disappears (his disappearances are legendary). Francis talks to the great man but learns little more than that Criminale is ""dirty with history"" like everybody else (his conduct during the Hungarian uprising was questionable), and readers looking for a literary detective story will be disappointed. What they get instead is Bradbury's presentation of ""culture as spectacle."" ""Nobody in the West [takes] writing seriously. What they take seriously are conferences."" Not new points, but Bradbury piles it on, giving us three more conferences, a Book Fair in Buenos Aires, and a Booker prize-giving dinner in London. As for Criminale, it's unclear whether Bradbury is hunting with the satirists or running with the hypemongers, for the satyr with the secret Swiss bank accounts is also linked repeatedly to Lukacs and Heidegger, not surprisingly, the portrait is out of focus. Ultimately, then, a dull and curiously empty work, pretty much lacking Bradbury's customary comic edge.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Viking