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Egypt, 1100 B.C.: a narrator without memory ("I still did not know who I was, nor how old I might be") finds himself in the Necropolis, in the tomb of young, dead nobleman Menenhetet the Second. . . and only slowly realizes that he is in fact "nothing but the poor Ka" (part of the soul) of Meni II. An unnerving, disorienting, promising beginning for this 700-page novel--but then, alas, the Ka of Meni II meets the Ka of his great-grandfather Meni I, a much-reincarnated High Priest who will be the primary narrator in the six long, lifeless sequences that follow. In "The Book of the Gods," Meni I offers a mini-history of Ra, Isis, Horus, Set, et al., seen in terms of "shit, blood-sacrifice, and fucking" (especially homosexual rape--a major preoccupation throughout the novel). In "The Book of the Child," Meni II remembers a childhood visit--with father, mother Hathfertiti, and Meni I--to Pharaoh Ramses IX, an endless evening during which Meni I tells the four-"Book" story of his previous existence in the bygone era of Ramses II: he is the Pharaoh's Charioteer and rape victim ("I was no longer myself but His, and loved Him. . . but I also knew I would never forgive him"); he's a leader in the Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites (powerful war scenes), indulging in cannibalism; he then becomes "Nanny of the harem," consorting in kinky rituals with the sorceress/ courtesan Honey-Ball (but also having threesies sex with the Pharaoh and a pig); next he's courtier/lover to Nefertiri, the Pharaoh's dumped queen ("you fucker, give Me your obelisk," she murmurs); eventually, in life #2, he'll become High Priest. And, while Meni I's reminiscences go on and on, Meni II's passive father sleeps (one can hardly blame him)--but the six-year-old Meni II himself becomes increasingly aware of the sexual cracklings in the air: the lust between Ramses IX and Hathfertiti, the sexual secrets of Meni I and Hathfertiti. . . and, above all, Meni II's own simmering "desire for my Mother" (they will indeed become lovers). Did Mailer's research into Ancient Egypt reveal a cultural fixation on Oedipal incest, fellatio, anal rape, and castration anxiety? Or is this a willful projection of Freudian preoccupations onto the world of the Pharaohs? Whichever the case, the result is oddly stagnant fiction--straining to conjure up a nexus between mysticism and sex. And though there are passages of vividly exotic Egyptology, along with a few of coarsely amusing anachronism, this flatly episodic epic most often seems embalmed in its own obsessions--with little to reward the many readets who'll be drawn by the Mailer name and the media interest.
Pub Date: April 25th, 1983
ISBN: 0349109702
Page count: 709pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1983


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