WALES' WORK by Robert Walshe


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A literary treat, caviar to the general--or a bore to others--as well as a plotty labyrinth full of false bottoms and Nabokovian distortion mirrors. The greatest literary publisher in England, Wallace Wales, of Wales & Wales, whose list is stuffed with mummified giants, is dead. His underlings, of course, knew that Wales never read the manuscripts he published, only their synopses and blurbs. And now he has left behind a most twisted will: he wants no obsequies, only to be cremated in black tie, dinner jacket and black hose, after one night in the candlelit mortuary with editor Robert Racine as lone mourner. Imagine Racine's shock when at about 2:30 a.m. the corpse sits up, strikes him on the chest, hops out of his coffin and leaves the mortuary. In the morning, however, the mortician declares that the body was in the coffin when it was incinerated. Wallace Wales is officially, legally dead. Another part of Wales' will appoints Racine as his official biographer. Suddenly mysterious notes, in Wales' loathesome green ink, are appearing and directing Racine down one biographical blind alley after another. Quite humiliating! What's more, Wales & Wales has been invaded by a dunderheaded American publisher and by a detestable new set of editors, who are slowly and deliberately making all the wrong publishing moves for one of the foremost houses of its day, the publisher of Samuel Johnson and 28 versions of the Bible. New titles on the list include a World Anthology of Party Jokes, The Seven Charms of Adolf Hitler, Rags to Ritzes, Sex and the Country House, There's Money in Your Garden. I'm OK, Adolf's OK: The Secret Papers of Martin Bormann, How to Make Love to a Hermaphrodite, and Watergate Down: Richard Nixon and the Art of Power Maintenance. Racine follows a paper chase of green ink to Vienna, Paris, Florence and Toronto, and eventually ends up pulling a Wales: having himself declared dead and laid out in his coffin, in hopes that Wales will appear at his wake. . . First-novelist Walshe has produced a virtuoso bag of tricks that may be a roman … clef about current London publishing. Its surreal twists and laugh-out-loud mockery of footnoted academia are inventive and the sendup of London publishers tremendous fun. But, though Wales' Work rests nicely beside Pale Fire, the moving charms of Lolita are not yet in Walshe's grasp.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 1985
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin