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Category Archive for 'Allegory'

One out of Two, an early (1994) novel by award-winning Mexican author Daniel Sada, has just been published in English translation for the first time – a tragicomic classic by an author whom both Roberto Bolano and Carlos Fuentes have highly praised for his “contributions to literature in the Spanish language.” It joins Almost Never (2008) as one of only two books by Sada available in English, to date. Though the book appears, at first, to be a simple morality tale, Sada is an adventurous novelist who endows his main characters with more than the flat, stereotypical behaviors and thoughts which one usually associates with stories written to illustrate a moral lesson. While keeping his style uncomplicated, he shows his characters as they live their ordinary lives and make some remarkable decisions which cause unexpected complications for them. The mood is light and the action often very funny, though equally often, it is ironic or edgy. The cumulative result is farcical rather than pedantic, serious rather than lightweight. The story revolves around a pair of forty-year-old identical twins who are invited to a wedding which only one can attend, and she meets a suitor. What the twins do to meet their joint needs becomes the focus of this farcical but sensitive novella with a surprising ending.

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With his crisp, hard-boiled style, unrelenting pace, and a protagonist reminiscent of Travis McGee, whose earthiness was always mixed with a sense chivalric mission, Geoff Dyer might seem, at first, to have much in common with John D. MacDonald whose pulp novels of the 1960s and 1970s were so popular. Though Dyer does use a relatively tough and noir-ish style at the outset of the novel, and does have a main character with a mission, he quickly leaves the dark realism of MacDonald’s novels behind, however, and moves into far more philosophical realms, areas that Travis McGee (and his author) never even hinted at. Once beyond the first chapter, Dyer begins to reveal a more vibrant literary style filled with unique images and descriptions. The plot abandons pure realism and starts moving in and out of reality, dreams, literature, symbolic stories reminiscent of old allegories, with medieval quests and jousts with an evil enemy, and into serious metaphysical questions. No matter how surprising (and sometimes abstruse) the author’s focus may seem as the novel progresses, however, Dyer never loses sight of his plot or his characters, and the overall framework of the novel never disappears. Full and rich in its imagery and ideas, In Search masquerades as a noir mystery while behaving more like an allegory and metaphysical novel – reminiscent of some of the novels of Italo Calvino.

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The Industry of Souls, written in 1998, opens with a thoughtful and loving tribute to the human spirit: “It is the industry of the soul, to love and to hate; to seek after the beautiful and to recognise the ugly; to honour friends and wreak vengeance upon enemies; yet, above all, it is the work of the soul to prove it can be steadfast in these matters.” Here, and throughout the novel, author Martin Booth focuses on ideas of industry and work, but as he expresses his ideas, he often uses deliberate, poetic parallels to Biblical verses: “[There is] a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace [Ecclesiastes]…” Alexander Bayliss, known as Shurik, is celebrating his eightieth birthday, as the novel opens. Walking around Myshkino, the Russian village where he lives, he visits with residents and recalls his life as a prisoner in the mines of Siberia, contrasting it with his life in Myshkino since then. At eighty, he is a man completely at peace with his world, celebrating the love, endurance, and forgiveness which have made his life not only bearable, but ultimately, full of joy. Through flashbacks and shifting time frames, he shows how he, a British businessman, came to be a prisoner in the Soviet Union, a worker in a Siberian coal mine, and how he coped for twenty years.

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In this uniquely Irish combination of satire and morality tale, author Claire Kilroy introduces the young, alcoholic thirteenth Earl of Howth, who is testifying in a 2016 legal case about the “Celtic Tiger” and the Irish real estate “bubble” from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, a case in which he was an active, but naïve, participant. Summoned to court years later, Tristram St. Lawrence gives evidence for ten days between March 10, 2016, and March 24, 2016, his whereabouts a mystery from the time of the real estate crash to the much later trial. Though he was personally involved in several enormous real estate schemes during the height of the action, he was, from the outset, a front man – a figurehead whom M. Deauville, a mysterious foreign investor, chose for his noble background and the presumed legitimacy his title would bestow on the projects being undertaken by Castle Holdings, domiciled in the thousand-year-old castle in Howth owned by Tristram’s father. Author Claire Kilroy presents Tristram’s story as part satire and part morality tale, a style which makes it possible for the reader to recognize how vulnerable, and almost cartoon-like, Tristram is. Though no reader will take Tristram seriously, most readers will be empathetic as they recognize how he is manipulated on his step-by-step journey to disaster. Entertaining and enlightening.

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Using the point of view of a female victim for the first time, and setting the story in a chaotic near future, James Sallis introduces the back story for Jenny Rowan, a name she assumed after she was held prisoner from the age of seven to the age of nine, confined to a wooden box under the bed of her kidnapper, who viciously assaulted her sexually for two years. When she eventually managed to escape, she hid in the Westwood Mall for two years, scrounging for food and discarded clothing, until she was discovered by social services and assigned to a juvenile facility until her sixteenth birthday. Aid from an elderly woman after she was freed led to a job at a café for five years, while she also went on to school and received a degree. Throughout, she recognizes the help she has received from good people who allow her to make her own decisions, and eventually she finds the perfect job, working for a TV station where she spends all day alone in a dark office finding snippets of stories on the internet and then combining them into features for the evening news. It is in this job that Jenny is working when this novel opens, and she quickly becomes real for the reader, who grows to care deeply about her. Sallis, in writing this, has seized life here and twisted it way beyond all norms, establishing easily identifiable themes about a victim’s emotional survival and strength, her tenuous steps into society, her need to progress at her own pace, and eventually her ability to reach out and help “others of [her] kind.” The focus is allegorical and experimental, and Jenny’s early life more closely resembles fantasy, however dark, than it realism.

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