THE DEATH OF NAPOLEON by Simon Leys

THE DEATH OF NAPOLEON

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Translated from its original French and published previously in England: a novella-length entertainment chronicling the imagined life of Napoleon after St. Helena. Leaving a look-alike behind him on St. Helena, Napoleon is smuggled away on shipboard, passing for a common cabin-hand. That an ingenious international plot is afoot by which the emperor will secretly reenter Europe counts for nothing when Napoleon's ship lands in Antwerp instead of Bordeaux, with the result that Napoleon entirely misses his underground contact, ``a man with a mustache, wearing a gray top hat, sitting on a barrel, holding a furled umbrella in one hand and a copy of the Financial Herald in the other.'' Alone and unrecognized, and passing as a mere tourist, Napoleon revisits Waterloo, embarks by stagecoach for Paris, is detained at the border for nonpayment of a hotel tab in Brussels, is ``rescued'' by a border guard who recognizes the great man and is still faithful to the Napoleonic cause--and who gives him an address in Paris of other die-hard faithfuls. In that capital city, Napoleon will take up with a poor but good-natured widow, reveal his strategic and tactical brilliance by revivifying her retail melon business--and secretly be shown a lunatic asylum (operated by ``Dr. Quinton'') in which all the inmates believe themselves--but of course--to be Napoleon. An ironically parallel fate awaits the too-late-returned emperor himself: when he reveals to the widow who he really is, she of course politely but resolutely considers him mad; and--after getting caught in a soaking rainstorm--he at last sinks into a final illness, pitied for the quaint madness of believing himself to be Napoleon. Tiny, little, miniature, pleasant enough historical fable with a twist.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-374-13565-7
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1992




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