HOBSON’S ISLAND by Stefan Themerson


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Power politics and metaphysical paradoxes dominate this free-range comic parable, a 1988 novel by the late (1910–88) Polish-born British author.

Themerson, who also wore the hats of physicist, architect and filmmaker, takes readers on a merry ride increasingly reminiscent of the loose plot of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It begins when French computer reps rescue the embattled “monarch” (actually “not so much a dethroned king as a deposed president of an African republic”) from revolutionary assassins, and sell him—for 78 bottles of wine—to itinerant “Consul” Plain-Smith, skipper of the good ship Resurrection. Renamed (at his request) Dr. Archibald Janson, the king/president disappears for many, many pages, after we’ve learned that he’s the half-brother of Italy’s Princess Zuppa, and that the eponymous island (off Ireland’s west coast) where he’ll be given sanctuary was formerly owned by eccentric multimillionaire Thomas Hobson, and is presently inhabited by the family of its late caretakers’ incestuous siblings. There’s much more: the stories of pacifist stockbroker Sean D’Eath’s troubled relationship with his son Adam, an atheist scientist devoted to producing WMDs; a mysterious corporation perhaps planning to employ Hobson’s Island as a weapons cache and/or nuclear waste dump; a punk teenaged girl’s romance with a great writer’s son, whose mind has been disturbed by reading Samuel Beckett; and interpolated speculations about “the mystery of the body”—its stubborn survival instinct’s conflict with its natural momentum toward death. The story’s structure is anything but shapely, yet Themerson’s characters woolgather memorably (e.g., wondering whether “God” is a noun or a verb), and issues of conquest and exploitation are ingeniously linked to marriage and parenthood, global politics, biblical history and unenforceable natural law.

If Richard Feynman, Flann O’Brien, Raymond Queneau and Dario Fo had ever gotten together, it might have been on Hobson’s Island.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 2005
ISBN: 1-56478-417-7
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2005