The title of Joe Hill’s new novel, NOS4A2, is a play on the word Nosferatu. The word is a synonym for vampire and it was made famous by F.W. Murnau’s iconic horror film featuring a gangly, bald headed and pointy nosed vampire called Count Orlok played by an actor called Max Schreck. Joe Hill cleverly transplants the unforgettable visage of Schreck’s Orlok into his clever and exciting story of good versus evil. Besides appropriating this archetypal character, Hill fully exploits the creepiness of Christmas. Christmas jolliness, early and/or excessive Christmas caroling and extravagant Christmas decorations belong to the same category of awful creepiness as clowns and church choir boys with glowing eyes (that’s a reference to a Bonnie Tyler video, by the way.) Christmas is one of those unctuously good things that crosses over from cloying into creepiness and even sheer terror. Joe Hill uses both of these conceits, the grotesque image of Schreck as Nosferatu, and the gaudy and chilling iconography of Christmas, to build an enormously entertaining adventure novel that I predict will be a bust-out best-selling blockbuster. Mark my words.
I won’t spoil the novel for anyone here but it’s about a battle between good and evil, with good embodied in a woman named Victoria (Vic, The Brat) and evil in Charlie Manx, a Nosferatu-like monster who is a serial kidnapper of children and worse, much worse. In addition to this basic conflict, Hill uses interdimensional travel to propel both the movement of his two protagonists and the feverish turning of pages by his readers. For Vic, this kind of travel is facilitated by an invisible bridge, and for Manx, by a supernatural 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. These “magical” canals and vehicles function to transport the characters between different spaces but also between the magical (or nightmarish) spaces that live inside of us and which can bleed out into the real world. Good and evil are not only the stuff of actions in the real world, of things, but also the stuff of our inscapes or inner worlds and subjectivity. Pure evil is a function of the darkness inside a person’s soul, as goodness is of the light. In Hill’s novelistic world, subjectivity and interiority are sources of power, motion, transformation and communication. They are the seat of evil and of redemption. It’s this kind of ‘world-building’ (a term we usually use to talk about fantasy or science fiction novels) that makes Hill’s new novel a superior popular entertainment. There’s magic in it but Hill doesn’t ask us to accept it at face value, unquestioningly. He makes us believe it as readers by explaining it to us.
So there’s magic, and fear, but there’s also a lot of real life in these pages. Vic and the characters that surround her are not types but real, imperfect people. Another praiseworthy characteristic of the novel is how Hill breaks down some of its most exciting parts into separate chapters, shifting from one character’s point of view to another. I don’t recall this technique in other novels but it’s really effective here. It’s original without being pretentious, allowing the narrative perspective to move around space and do “replays” from different angles, so to speak. Fun stuff.
Ever since 20th Century Ghosts I’ve admired Joe Hill. He manages to preserve the pleasure of genre literature while also indicating a savvy feel for its ambiguities and symbolic possibilities. He’s not a shock jock nor a torture porn guy. He doesn’t jump out at you in a cheap shot of fear. Instead, he respects the experience of the uncanny, and expertly tilts it toward outright fear and lemme outta here! In particular,in 20th Century Ghosts, the story “Best New Horror” manages to be self-aware and even postmodern but not in an annoying or pretentious way. Then, Hill ratchets up the imagery and the tension and creates a dense masterpiece that is as rich as an Escher design but also just crazy scary dammit. From that moment on I knew that Joe Hill was a special writer.
NOS4A2 is a different kind of story in comparison to “Best New Horror.” I wouldn’t call it horror and quit there, although it has creepy and terrifying elements we would associate with other horror novels. I would prefer to call it magical realism with adventure story thrown into the mix. It is written on a broad canvas, full of big ideas that are thought through with care, and delivered with appealing characters and honest plotting.
Joe Hill has been very successful so far with his two novels and short stories, but I fully expect NOS4A2 to catapult him to a new level of popularity. What’s more exciting is to see a writer who was already excellent become more ambitious and experimental and pull off a big fun book like this one. In other words, we can continue to expect great things from Joe Hill.
© Christopher Conway, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Searching for The Searchers: A Review of Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend
Winston Churchill famously called Russia a riddle “wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Less remembered is what he said after those words, which was that the Russian national interest was the key to understanding it. We could attempt a similar construction about John Ford’s landmark movie The Searchers (1956), which is also enigmatic and contradictory, and the key to which is U.S. race history. Another way of putting this is that The Searchers is a Western nourished by both an aura of epic mythology and a sense of dread over the violent legacy of Manifest Destiny. It has the romantic elegance of the paintings of Frederick Remington and the existential darkness of a psychological nightmare. It has moments of intense realism and also cringeworthy racial stereotypes and tropes. The movie’s villainous antagonist, a Comanche chief called Scar, is less authentically savage than Ethan Edwards, played by the iconic actor John Wayne. And so on. These are the kinds of reflections that those of us who love The Searchers try to explain to the uninitiated. The best we can do is eternally return to statements that begin with “It’s a Western” and which must inevitably be followed by the conjunction “but.” The Searchers is a Western, but…
Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend is a kind of biography of the movie. Frankel tells the story of the movie’s historical inspirations, its screenwriter Alan Le May, its director John Ford, its movie star actor John Wayne and the movie’s reception among critics then and now. By far, the most compelling part of the book is the first half, which tells the story of the captivity of Cynthia Ann Parker among the Comanche in nineteenth-century Texas. In one of the ironies of history that proves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction, the captive white girl gave birth to a Comanche boy that grew up to become a fearsome and mythologized Comanche leader: Quanah Parker. As interesting as the true life search for Cynthia Ann Parker was, especially in comparison to what we see in The Searchers, it pales in comparison to the tale of Cynthia’s Comanche’s son and his remarkable success as a leader and friend of the white man. Any reader of Frankel’s book would agree that Alan Le May’s novel, and John Ford’s adaptation of it, only scratched the tip of the iceberg of the story of Cynthia Ann Parker. Thanks to Frankel’s vivid tales, I actually hope that someone will be bold enough to retell the story of Alan Le May’s novel, or the true story of Cynthia Ann and her son Quanah.
Frankel teaches us about the grim and vivid history of the Texas Comanche Wars, but also about what a dreadful human being John Ford really was. In the book, the enigmatic quality of Ford’s despicable nature is only matched by the sphinx-like mystery of Cynthia Ann Parker, who, upon returning to the world of whites, is both unwilling and unable to cast off her Comanche identity. We can guess and speculate but she remains a riddle. Ironically, John Wayne, the icon that liberals love to hate because of all of the symbolism embodied in his cowboy persona, appears to have been something of a sweetheart.
My only criticism of the book is that I don’t believe that Frankel gives full voice to the extraordinary popularity of The Searchers among film historians and cultural critics. There are some rich interpretations of the movie that go unmentioned in these pages and which readers would find quite fascinating. There is also a missed opportunity when Frankel does not mention Sherman Alexie’s brilliant short story “Dear John Wayne” (from the book of stories The Toughest Indian in the World), which is about The Searchers. Alexie, who is one of our preeminent writers, in addition to being an American Indian (it pays to separate out these two statements), once said that The Searchers was one of his favorite movies. His story is a brilliant riff on both The Searchers and the John Wayne persona. Interestingly, another wonderful writer, Louise Erdrich, has penned a poem by the same title, “Dear John Wayne,” that would also have merited some exploration. Fans of The Searchers, or proud “Searcher Geeks” are interested in all of this. Minor quibbling, though. Mr. Frankel did right by us.
What is The Searchers and what does it ultimately mean? Frankel does not give us a simple answer. In the pages of his book we trace some compelling life stories and obsessions and we are continuously reminded that to be American is to be villain, hero and victim, all at the same time. Perhaps this is the nature of our national riddle/enigma/mystery. The other part is that we aren’t able to reconcile all those personas into a coherent whole.
If you love The Searchers you need to read this book but that’s besides the point because you probably already read it.
For more information on Glenn Frankel, here’s his website.
© Christopher Conway, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
A year before his death, the Liberator Simón Bolívar wrote to one of his supporters that “in my name both good and evil is sought…and many invoke it as the text of their madness.” This, in a nutshell, summarizes what political cults are all about. When a man becomes a myth or a legend, he ceases to be an actor and becomes an object for others to use for their own political ends. In this regard, Bolívar is akin to a santo de vestir, a church mannequin capable of performing the role of more than one saint simply through the changing of its vestments. This is why to study the image of Bolívar over time is to meet many different Bolivars; we see conservatives who tout Bolívar as a symbol of political centralism while Cold War-era Soviet historians celebrated him as a Marxist revolutionary.
Now, with the death of Hugo Chávez we are witnessing the emergence of a parallel Cult of Chávez, modeled on the Cult of Bolívar. In my 2003 book, The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature, I outlined a theoretical model for understanding the kind of symbolism that underpins the Cult of Bolívar and which remains relevant for an understanding of what is happening right now with Chávez. I argued for three elements that defined how intellectuals, writers and statesmen have defined the meaning of Bolívar.
“My argument is that the authority of monuments, and by extension, monumetnalist narratives about heroes, may be diagrammed through the concept of monumental poses, or authoritative statements about the monumentalist hero that explain his primary claim on ideological power. In the case of Bolívar there are three monumental poses…The first poses is the concept of progress. In modern Latin America, the symbol of Bolívar has been charged with the defense of hte promise of tomorrow. History is plotted through continuities and Bolívar is a powerful wellspring of myth capable of joining the past to the present and to a providential future…The Liberator encodes an authoritiative claim to the past and to the future, with the power to exert influence over the political, social and cultural realms…Another dominant pose of the monumental Bolívar is its embodiment of the patriarchal principle…The Liberator is a symbolic father whose heroism and vision have entitled him to the unswerving loyalty of his heirs, who seek his inspiration and guidance in times of crisis…The third and final poses is related to language and signification, and may be termed metatextual. The cult of Bolívar maintains itself through unquestioned faith in the authority of the words of Bolívar…” (3-4)
In looking at the outpouring of grief over Chávez’s death, and the ritualistic, state sponsored celebration of his life, we begin the see these monumental poses at work on the dead body of Chávez. We see Chávez explained as the key to Venezuela’s Socialist future (the pose of progress and futurism), we see him celebrated as a symbolic father who cannot be questioned (the pose of patriarchy) and we see him as a symbolic set of authoritative statements about what Venezuela should be (the pose of metatextuality.)
In the “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Karl Marx famously wrote “all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice…the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Bolívar’s anonymous death on the coast of Colombia was tragic because he was arguably the most important leader of Independence and because he had been rejected by all. There were no state funerals or processions or grandilocuent speeches. The man who had led the liberation of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, died a pauper’s death and vilified by both Colombians and Venezuelans. It was only twelve years after his death that Venezuela reclaimed his body and began the symbolic work of rehabilitating him for posterity. Other South American countries did the same by mid-century and Bolívar became a Pan-American symbol that has endured into the twenty first century.
The death of Chávez, and the transparent creation of “another” Bolívar-like cult is reminiscent of the farce in Marx’s quote above. I don’t say this on ideological grounds, out of a rejection of Chavismo (although I am not a Chavista). I say it in relation to the question of form: the Cult of Chávez is a simulacrum or parody of the Cult of Bolívar that has begun and will continue to function in parallel and analogous ways to the original Cult of Bolívar.
It will be interesting to see how the Venezuelan state tries to negotiate the maintenance of two cults at the same time: the Cult of Bolívar and the Cult of Chávez. It will also be interesting to see whether the Venezuelan opposition to Chavismo will take up the mantle of Bolívar to counter the Cult of Chávez. In a war of words and ideas, political factions always need symbols.
My citation of Marx is from The Karl Marx Library, vol. 1, ed. Saul K. Padover (McGraw Hill: New York, 1972), 245–46.
The association of Bolívar with a Santo de Vestir is a concept I use in The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature on page 18. Elías Pino Iturrieta, in his book El Divino Bolívar, cites a conversation with me in which I shared the term with him before the publication of my book.
For students and researchers in finding out more about my book, here’s an overview of its contents:
The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature provides an introduction to Bolivarian identity in Latin American culture.
My introduction, “Dominant Poses, Iconoclastic Gestures,” uses a controversial painting by the Chilean Juan Dávila to frame an analyis of how the Cult of Bolívar has historically authorized itself as a commanding set of “Truths” related to language, gender and historical development. The rest of the book examines how critiques of the Cult of Bolívar have been used as vehicles for condemning the shortcomings of Latin American modernization. Primary materials considered in the study include: the visual arts, fiction, poetry, biographies, children’s literature, and political tracts. In sum the book provides a framework for speaking about the contours and limitations of hero-worship in modern Latin America.
Chapter 1 “Bolívar and the Emergence of a National Religion” examines the emergence of the Cult of Bolívar in nineteenth- century Venezuela through archival research.
Chapter 2 “Monumentalism and the Erotics of National Degeneration” is an exploration of late nineteenth-century challenges to Bolivarian nationalism. This chapter includes a reading of the Modernist novel “Idolos rotos” (1901), with special emphasis on sexuality and development.
Chapter 3 “The Promise of Bolivarian Paternity” deals with Bolívar as symbolic father of the nation, through children’s literature and specifically the writings of Teresa de la Parra, who died before she could write a sentimental and ‘feminine’ biography of Bolívar.
Chapter 4 “A Whore in the Palace: The Poetics of Pornodetraction” examines the Cult of Manuela Sáenz as it relates to Simón Bolívar, with special attention to the controversy over Denzil Romero’s pornographic novel “La Esposa del Dr. Thorne” (1983).
Chapter 5 “Solitude, Signs and Power in ‘The General in His Labyrinth’ analyzes Gabriel García Márquez’s “The General in his Labyrinth” (1989) vis-a-vis “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, “The Autumn of the Patriarch”, and García Márquez’s early journalism, his Nobel lecture and his memoir, “Living to Tell the Tale” (originally published in Spanish in 2001; 2003 English translation).
Afterword “Bolivarian Self-Fashioning into the Twenty-First Century” is a meditation on President Hugo Chávez and his brand of Bolivarian nationalism. Full text here.
I’m not a big reader of westerns, despite having grown up in Spain watching western movies every Saturday afternoon. Still, one of my all time favorite novels is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. That’s an epic entertainment of the highest order and I’ll never forget the experience of reading it for several days as I lived in an empty apartment with one air mattress and one brown suitcase. (I had just moved to Texas and I was waiting for my possessions to arrive, I didn’t even have a car.) Anyway, few years ago I read the western novel Hombre by Elmore Leonard after hearing a lot about what a smashing novelist he was, and after catching the Paul Newman movie on television. I was impressed by how economical and interesting the novel was and decided to read more at some point. This morning I finished Valdez is Coming and my estimation of Leonard has grown in leaps and bounds.
Once again, the prose is spare and direct. There are no flourishes nor any posturing, literary or otherwise. Leonard does not indulge in sexy set pieces, or gory set pieces, or flights of description that are not needed. He has a story to tell and he gets to the point. In spite of this, the writing is not simplistic or overly schematic. The writing is good.
I won’t spoil the plot too much, but the premise of the novel is the unintentional shooting of a black man by Valdez. This leads to the protagonist’s quest to atone by seeking economic justice for the Apache woman pregnant with the dead man’s child. Valdez, who spent his life as a hunter of Apaches, now becomes a passionate advocate for financially remunerating the Apache woman for the unjust killing of her black partner. In this way, Leonard articulates an alliance between Mexican/Latinos and American Indians. (I write Mexican/Latinos because Valdez has many names… he is Roberto, he is Bob and he is Valdez. He is not purely Mexican.) Along the way, he is victimized by villains and rises again to seek justice. There is a lot of shooting. Ultimately, a mistreated woman joins his cause, and she too becomes a part of Valdez’s ‘movement’ for justice. The weak and disenfranchised, people of color and women, become a part of Valdez’s personal code of justice.
Valdez is Coming is a quick, pulpy read but its unexpectedly rich. It is politically forward, especially for a novel published in 1970. It also suggests that Valdez is something of a divine figure, a resurrected Christ who returns from the dead to make a better world. I think everyone pretty much agrees that the mythology of the ‘Wild West’ hinges primarily on the celebration of white masculinity and individualism. For Leonard to posit a brown man as the hero, to represent him as the leader of a symbolic community of disenfranchised people, and then put in his mouth the words of a culture of law and order, is to really cut against the grain of mainstream Americana. Echoes of The Searchers?
Elmore Leonard seems to be going through one of many revivals. He has always been popular and critically acclaimed but the success of the contemporary western Justified seems to be driving new readers like me to seek out his novels. Good deal. People will not be disappointed.
OK so this is the question: why the heck was Burt Lancaster cast as Valdez in the 1971 movie version?
I tweet about these kinds of things too, at @cristobalconway
Death Without Company by Craig Johnson is the second Walt Longmire mystery. This is a very likable series because of its Wyoming setting, which is lovingly rendered, and its appealing characters: Sheriff Longmire, his best friend Henry Standing Bear, his deputy Victoria Moretti, and others. Death Without Company is tinted with the faintest hue of something uncomfortable and potentially supernatural while also containing exciting set pieces about people at war with their surroundings and nature. It’s very atmospheric and inviting for this reason. However, despite its appeal, I found the novel a bit disappointing. There are relationships and dynamics that seem significant at the beginning but which the book pretty much casts aside by the end. While the mystery at the center is tight and clever, the plotting of Longmire’s interactions and relationships were a bit unconvincing and unsatisfying. Some balance was missing.
I thought I would write something for this blog about one of the things that I love about the book project I’m working on now, but then realized I had kind of said it before, so here’s a quote from that older piece, lightly edited and altered:
“But there’s something else that drew me to nineteenth century studies. It’s the same thing that drives my love of collecting nineteenth-century photographs: reviving, if only fleetingly, the dead. Taking their vestiges and trying to arrive at some understanding of their world and their lives. I’m as wary as anyone here about fictionalizing the past but there is great pleasure in experiencing a kind of insight into the past that allows you to feel it as something real, and not as something distant and expired. In other words, I am talking about flashes of insight that you may not be able to quantify in your scholarship but which feel more transcendent. (Ok, so shoot me for saying it.) I dance with the dead because I treasure the intimacy of defeating death and time, if only for a fleeting moment, poring over an old newspaper or an old diary. An illusion perhaps, but a beautiful one nonetheless…”
[No spoilers in what follows.]
Craig Johnson is the author the Walt Longmire series of mysteries, set in Absaroka County, Wyoming. The first novel in the series is The Cold Dish, which introduces Sheriff Walter Longmire, his best friend Henry Standing Bear, his deputy Victoria Moretti and other small western town and rez types, likable and not. I picked up the book because two of my most beloved authors endorse it on the front and back cover: Tony Hillerman, author of the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries, and Robert B. Parker, the author of the Spenser series.
The Cold Dish proved to be a surprising pleasure. It’s an interesting novel because it’s a cross between a cozy and a western. Cozies are mysteries that you read by the fire with a cup of tea, shivering with pleasure. They are books in which you love the characters and their world and the mystery is almost incidental to the indulgence of living with them. Settings for cozies include quaint English villages or other beautiful places, like Tuscany in the summer. In my opinion, the male detectives in cozies are charming police inspectors who are designed to appeal to readers who are not looking for Rambo on a rampage: they are gentle, intuitive, self-effacing and decidedly contrary to machismo. The Louise Penny mysteries starring Chief Inspector Gamache are an example of this kind of mystery.
I’m not usually a fan of cozies, nor do I read westerns, so my delight at The Cold Dish was a surprise. Walt Longmire is the older uncle you always wanted, and his affectionate, paternal demeanor with Victoria Moretti and other friends in town is plain charming. The bromance between Longmire and his Cheyenne best friend Henry Standing Bear is reminiscent of the relationship between Spenser and Hawk in Robert B. Parker. Both men are gentle giants capable of extraordinary feats of courage and they are endlessly devoted to each other.
Maybe the most important thing about a cozy is whether you want to get cozy with it. Do you want to spend a week or two living in a small English or Canadian village? The Cold Dish has a lot of that, and it makes sense: the majestic mountains of Wyoming, its rivers and lakes, provide an epic backdrop to small town life and the investigation of murder. This novel is set in Autumn, with snow storms and sunshine alternating. You want to be there. The characters are warm, and the landscape beautiful.
Another plus is a dose of American Indian culture and tradition, something that Tony Hillerman immortalized in his series set in New Mexico. It’s definitely an art to infuse a cozy with a touch of evil and folklore, and the world of Walt Longmire contains both: his is a world where evil happens, and where Indian beliefs and customs coexist with western rationalism. There is some creepiness there to make the cozy elements pop all the more.
I really liked The Cold Dish, it was a warm book and I plan to go back for more.
[Please note: The following post about the mystery novel The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason is free of spoilers.]
I’ve always read mysteries but I confess that lately I am a very impatient reader of crime fiction. After over thirty years of reading mysteries, and watching crime films, and countless episodes of mystery TV programs, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve seen it ALL BEFORE. Most of the conventions of the genre start to look like grotesque, intolerable poses. As I get older, I find myself completely dissatisfied with the standardized formulas of detective story-telling, or should we just more accurately call them templates? I also find myself becoming stodgy about things that I used to find exciting and thrilling, such as serial killers and outrageously original ways of killing and mutilating bodies. Nowadays, when I read mysteries, I am looking for outstanding characterization, voice and something else, factor X, that I can never predict or know beforehand but when I see it I recognize it as something special. What interests me the least is who is the killer.
Before reading The Draining Lake by the Icelandic novelist Arnaldur Indridason, I had read Jar City and The Silence of the Grave. The first struck me as very clever, tightly plotted and refreshingly humanistic in its approach to the genre. The Silence of the Grave blew my socks off for its poignant depiction of domestic violence, its lessons about Icelandic history and the sympathetic presence of Inspector Erlendur and his team. At that point I decided that Indridason was a cut above the usual, sensationalist crime writers I’ve been reading. The Draining Lake, however, is my favorite of the three. It’s the story of a murder investigation but more importantly it is an exploration of loss. Indridason populates his story with multiple characters who are searching for lost loved ones. He weaves all of these stories of loss together and creates echoes and resonance, culminating in a beautiful and very moving ending. A mystery is solved, in a superficial sense of the word, but the existential mystery of loss remains, and all characters must endlessly and eternally search it. Even when loss is irrevocable, unchangeable, it demands that we endlessly return to it, to somehow try to understand its meaning and permanence.
At one point, Inspector Erlendur visits his former Chief, who is dying of cancer and who is a fan of Hollywood Westerns. The two men watch John Ford’s famous film The Searchers, about Wayne’s hunt to restore a little white girl to her family after she is kidnapped by the Comanche. It’s a revealing microcosm of what we might call the novel’s geography of loss and memory. Indridason layers in these and other symbolic references and emotional side notes that reinforce the themes of loss and searching. It’s a great literary orchestration, unusual in a crime novel. It’s not pretentious or obtrusive. It fits, it is economical, it greases the gears of the plot.
All of this might make it seem like The Draining Lake is a novel about philosophy, or intellectual entertainment. It’s not, really. It’s an excellent murder mystery that features fascinating history about the Cold War in Europe. It also features appealing characters that are human, relatable and even sometimes admirable. Inspector Erlendur has an outstanding backstory, which explains his obsession with missing person cases and his existential melancholy. He’s a man we cheer for when a little bit of happiness turns up at his door at the end of the novel.
I can’t wait to read more of Arnaldur Indridason. I can’t wait to find other novelists who take crime fiction to such unexpected, rich places.
In September of 2012, an alleged google maps UFO from Jacksonville, Texas, made the rounds. The story appeared on local TV news, as well as national media outlets, such as this story on ABC news. Apparently, google cameras captured a beautiful, disc-like object over the skies of Jacksonville, Texas. Then another street view UFO was found in New Mexico.
Well, I think we can settle this phenomenon as lens flare, unless you want to believe that UFO’s travel the asphalt of Scottsdale’s city streets.
If you go to 7225 East 3rd Avenue, Scottsdale, AZ (move viewer DOWN), you can see some beautiful UFOs tracking up and down the street, even in pairs. Photos below.
The Prospector by the Nobel prize winning novelist J.M.G. Le Clezio is an ode to yearning, and to the sea. The protagonist is madly in love with the sea and much of his striving in this novel is about finding an existence that will allow him to remain suspended in it, forever. The play of light on water, the sounds of waves, the primal act of fishing the sea for sustenance, are all things that Alexis experiences with awe and intense reverence. The quest for the lost treasure of childhood, and memory itself, is expressed through the transparent allegory of a hunt for a buried pirate treasure. Hunting for treasure is like hunting for something that the past has hidden; through the cryptic paper scraps and detritus of the past (such as a pirate’s map), we try to discover what is hidden. Hunting for treasure is a loving act of memory trying to put “together” the pieces and render whole what time has hidden. The treasure hunt is also like writing, a form of “prospecting” that seeks to give meaning to the cryptic geography of what is no more.
I recently read Pierre and Virginia by Bernardin St. Pierre, which is set on the island of Mauritius, like The Prospector. St. Pierre’s novel, one of the most popular books of the late 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century, is mirrored repeatedly in Le Clezio’s novel. Alexis and his sister Laure are Pierre and Virginia. Alexis and his love Omou are Pierre and Virginia. Throughout, in both novels, we see the theme of loss, nostalgia and the adoration of nature. The Prospector is much more elegiac than Pierre and Virginia, which has a strong shot of sensation and melodrama in it.
Reading The Prospector is a little like putting a shell to your ear and hearing the sea inside of oneself. It’s quiet and hypnotic, meditative, entrancing.