Monday, February 23, 2009

The intimate outsider

[Victor falls more and more under the spell of René. It seems that the Belgian youth has achieved everything that Victor wants. He is a member of the palace's Secret Police; the Regent grants him a young concubine in the palace; he has even won to the heart and bed of the Dowager Empress (not the same one that contributed to the Boxer Rebellion, who was by now dead). The novel grows ever more feverish as young René appears to be more tightly wrapped up in the life of the Forbidden City even as Victor grows more dispirited about his own efforts. Or is he? This question is at the heart of Segalen's novel. The story grows ever more feverish as Victor's desires to be admitted to the Celestial Presence are foiled, even as René ascends ever higher in the Imperial hierarchy. [...] Many readers of this book will end up puzzled or frustrated, because Segalen does not choose to wrap the story up neatly. The desire he has to become part of what seems so patently unknowable gives rise to a nightmarish atmosphere and a growing sense of unreality that reaches a climax at the end of the novel. I for one was enthralled the whole way through. So what if RENE LEYS is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma (which also pretty much describes its author's life). The Impenetrability of the Forbidden City, January 19, 2006 By James Paris "Tarnmoor" (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews Permalink]

There Victor, here Peter; a sad tinge of resemblance. [TNM]

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