Monday, November 22, 2004

Voice Literary Supplement: Seeking Hyde

I am a little behind in reading my Voice Literary Supplement but today is the day to comb through my inbox.

I have to say that Rachel Aviv creates a stirring of inclination in me where Alberto Manguel's Stevenson Under the Palm Trees is concerned.

To begin with, her opening paragraph is compelling:

Robert Louis Stevenson, a sickly, self-described "wretched house-plant," died at age 44 while making a dinner salad. Like other ailing 19th-century writers, RLS was living in the South Seas (in this case, Samoa), hoping the warm air would soothe his hemorrhaging lungs. Deep into his convalescence, feeling lonely and apparently melodramatic, the author sent a letter to a friend, warning, "If nobody writes to me, I shall die."

Actually, she had me at the opening paragraph. The combination of Victoriana, murder mystery and the South Pacific, however, was the clincher.

In Stevenson Under the Palm Trees, the Argentine literary critic Alberto Manguel (who describes readers as "post-mortem creators") resuscitates the Victorian author, creating a murder mystery based on his final days in Samoa. Much has been made of Stevenson's atheism (particularly in contrast with his father's Calvinism), and in this taut novella, the spiritual struggle comes to a head: Stevenson falls victim to a malady he could reasonably be credited with inventing—a split personality Ă  la Jekyll and Hyde.

I'll add this to my reading wishlist.

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