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EXQUISITE CORPSE by Robert Irwin

EXQUISITE CORPSE

By Robert Irwin

Pub Date: April 7th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44274-X
Publisher: Pantheon

 The obsession of a British surrealist with his muse, as the world teeters on the brink of WW II, furnishes the psychodrama in Irwin's (The Mysteries of Algiers, 1988, etc.) latest, but solid historical detail only adds lead to a tale already heavy with introspection. Caspar, one of the inner circle of the Serapion Brotherhood, London's surrealist group, recalls in his postwar memoir the glory days of the movement, days that began with a well-received exhibition in 1936 and ended with an orgy gone wrong in 1937. The period also marked Caspar's first and last contact with Caroline, a pretty petit-bourgeois typist who enters his world as he is led around town blindfolded--a typical surrealist outing. She poses for Caspar and enchants him, goes along on other outings, and even tells him she loves him, but it isn't long before she becomes restless. Desperate to hold her love, or at least to have sex with her, Caspar masters hypnosis, but Caroline, declaring herself pregnant by another man, flees when he tries it on her, never to be seen again. He searches, waits, and frets incessantly for her, then attends an orgy organized by the Brotherhood, hoping to be distracted, but is dealt another blow instead when the group's leader uses the opportunity to commit suicide. Institutionalized and given shock therapy, Caspar misses the coming of war and is released only after the Blitz is well underway. He spends the war happily turning out documentary-like paintings of bomb damage, and is even sent to Germany as the war ends to sketch the concentration camps, but life is still empty without Caroline, so he writes his memoir--and lo! its publication brings her to him again (a meeting he recounts in a postscript). The touches of madness here have merit; otherwise, it's a slow, confusing crawl through exotic scenery.