THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK by Peter Hoyle

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Hoyle's first novel (published in Britain in 1984): an ambitious tale of a ""gentle madman"" who assumes the identity of the Dumas hero. The nameless narrator (whose wife has just left him) lives in a seedy housing-project in present-day England. One day he hears sobbing from the apartment above and investigates to find a disheveled man named Philip Rampick, who is under the illusion that he is the famed man in the iron mask, Pretender to the Throne, imprisoned by his brother, the Sun King, Louis XIV: ""I expected you today, Monsieur. I know you bring a message from the King."" Rampick believes the narrator to be (alternately) either his mortal enemy, the Musketeer d'Artagnan, or his kindly gaoler, Saint-Mars, and the narrator--his own life empty--falls wholeheartedly into the folie à deux. When Rampick's exasperated sister arrives to claim her wandering brother, the narrator takes him on a journey (wonderfully described, and very funny) through industrial England--with Rampick all the time thinking he's being transferred to another prison in 17th-centuryFrance. Predictably, though, the narrator becomes even more mad than the madman, and is finally institutionalized--where he learns that Rampick has committed suicide (although a psychiatrist's ""note"" at the end indicates that the ""narrator"" may have been Rampick himself all along). A tricky, metaphysical novel, sometimes brilliant, but finally self-conscious and overintellectualized--and it presumes a familiarity with the Dumas classic many readers may not have. For a more fully realized variation on the same theme, see Hoyle's second novel, Brantwood (above).

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1986
Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row