ARCHIPELAGO by Michel Rio

ARCHIPELAGO

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A 128-page novella from French writer Rio (Parrot's Perch, 1985; Dreaming Jungles, 1987): the story of a young boy's sexual coming of age that gives as much weight to the philosophical implications of this rite of passage as to the events themselves. The tale is set in an exclusive boarding school in the Channel Islands--the Archipelago of the title--where lessons and students are bilingual in French and English. The central character (whose name we are not told) has been asked to spend the Easter holidays with the beautiful but reclusive Alexandra Hamilton, the proprietor of the school. Though he has already accepted an invitation to stay with his friend Alan Stewart, a brilliant if somewhat mysterious boy, he agrees to stay with Alexandra Hamilton, in part because she is an old friend of his mother's, and in part because he is intrigued by her beauty. Stewart further piques his curiosity by asserting that a boy's love for his mother can easily evolve into an adult sensual passion, that mother and prostitue are two sides of the ideal woman, and that real passion can be found only in the meeting of these extremes. The night before the hero moves in to the Hamilton household, Alan Stewart arranges for the school nurse--the beautiful and one-dimensional Miss Atkins--to seduce him. At the Hamilton house, our hero, already somewhat confused, discovers that the school librarian and former tutor of Miss Hamilton's--the ugly but brilliant Leonard Wilde--is also in love with Miss Hamilton. His secret discovered, Wilde attempts suicide but is saved by the boy, who in turn is appropriately thanked by his hostess. Grateful for his intervention, Hamilton and Wilde now realize that they should leave the literal and metaphorical archipelago of the island school and their isolated lives and head out into the world--a multiple rite of passage. The ideas here are more interesting than the characters, who speak to each another in long, ornate paragraphs, quote Latin phrases liberally, and are totally without humor. A slight story weighed down with intellectual pretensions.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1989
Publisher: Pantheon