THE IMMORTAL COIL by Peter Van Greenaway


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Striking about these six long stories by the author of Manrissa Man (1982) is their inventive language. Greenaway is a master at reproducing dialects (Irish, American southern, etc.), and he has a knack for shaping words into bizarre configurations (""polterghost,"" ""tallowstink,"" ""state of utterness"") and playing games with grammar to create a mood or convey a nuance of meaning. Adam Spenser, the protagonist of the title story, is a novelist, whose ""livelihood. . .depended on a clever manipulation of the commonplace."" When his publishers tell him his books are getting boring, and he is advised to ""put more sex into [his] tales,"" he not only manipulates the commonplace, but learns also to manipulate his own tedious reality, much to the surprise of his editor. In ""Indefinite Article,"" Father Mahoney of Knock-mealldown, Ireland, finds an object on his church steps that enrages him mightily. As the narrative unfolds, the reader discovers just what this strange article is (is it a ""ballewn,"" or could it possibly be a ""phenomenal irruption of latex""?). Mahoney's wrath brings the whole town into an uproar and the ensuing events and disclosures smack of black humor but end in tragedy. ""Cadenza"" involves Dezlmi Gorcan, ""over-running President of Poldavia,"" a mythical Slavic country. In an attempt to improve public opinion of the by-now monotonous leader, his advisors plan an ""assassination"" that will endear him to his subjects. Unfortunately, one of the least loving of his subjects causes the plan to backfire with an ironic twist. The weakest story here is sci-fi. Set in the future, it concerns a family learning about their unfortunate predecessors. Most of the Earth has been destroyed through mankind's shortsightedness and greed (though, for a change, not by a nuclear explosion). ""The Exhibition"" is a museum that describes the lives of the now-extinct earlier inhabitants. In clips that read much like outtakes from Woody Allen's film Sleeper, the family discovers clues to the folly of a technologically overloaded, consumer-oriented society. Their contentment with their own primitive existence, free from the garbage of the past, is too pat and the ending too clich‚d. With one exception, then, engaging, intelligent works of fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Victor Gollancz--dist. by David & Charles