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Jade Cabinet by Rikki Ducornet

Jade Cabinet (edition 1992)

by Rikki Ducornet

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962179,746 (3.74)3
Title:Jade Cabinet
Authors:Rikki Ducornet
Info:Dalkey Archive Press (1992), Edition: 1st ed, Hardcover, 160 pages
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The Jade Cabinet by Rikki Ducornet



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She dreamed of air, of vanishing in thin air; she dreamed of evaporating. She dreamed of levitating, of growing wings, of transforming herself into a cobweb, an angel, a volatile gas.

Rikki Ducornet rounds off her elemental quadrilogy with a poetic meditation on air, in the process shuffling and re-dealing some of the most important themes and figures from her previous three novels. Here our heroine is Etheria, mute and innocent, married off to a Victorian industrialist for the price of a jade figurine; the action moves from Oxford to Egypt and involves mummified ibis, theories of Adamic language, disappearing acts, graverobbery, Lewis Carroll, an anorexic ‘Hungerkünstler’, a couple of murders, and the non-consensual application of a jade dildo. Only Rikki Ducornet….

The quartet has been about language, about fiction, about storytelling, about memory, and most of all about men and women and sexuality. Every book has given us new illustrations of maleness and femaleness and set them interacting in different ways, her focus not on realist character sketches but rather on bold, almost cartoonish emblems of her themes (one character here is described in terms of his ‘caricatural virility’). She is particularly interested in investigating the muddy slope that leads from male sexual desire to misogyny.

It is absolutely representative of Ducornet's distinctive worldview that the Reverend Charles Dodgson – treated by most modern writers as a problematic figure – appears here as the paragon of benign and sensitive manhood. There is nothing at all ironic about the narrator's apologia for Dodgson's nude photographic sessions with her and her sister, aged three and nine:

I feel it is fitting that I say here what an utter delight it was to run about in Dodgson's cosy rooms unfettered by buttons and braces; to try on all manner of odd tatters, to sit, enlaced by Etheria or plaiting the cloud of her hair before an imaginary seascape while Dodgson told stories about the trials and tribulations of shellfish and sea turtles…

Men who love women (and girls), no matter how much they may sexualise them, are OK as far as Ducornet is concerned; it is hating women that constitutes the ultimate evil in her works. (It is anyway questionable whether anyone could sexualise women more than Ducornet does herself.) That misogyny has been personified in every book of this tetralogy thanks to a series of monstrous male figureheads – the Exorcist, Septimus de Bergerac, Toujours-Là, and now finally – toujours là indeed – the character of Radulph Tubbs.

If Etheria is airy and sylphlike, Tubbs is grossly corporeal – ‘all greed and gravy’, ‘his fingers perpetually redolent of Stilton’. As always with Ducornet, his unpleasant qualities are intimately linked to his gynophobia: ‘he hated and feared the world's feminine aspect – that is to say, anything folded, concealed, creased.’ (Vocabulary like this, and the web of connections it sets up, is very important in Ducornet's writing. In this novel, for instance, the keyword is volatilized, a rare synonym for ‘evaporated’, which is used three or four times.)

The paradox of Ducornet is that her writing is both wonderfully subtle and at the same time almost Manichaean in its vision: her women are either lunar, sexual creatures or (the nuns of [book:The Stain|379260], for instance) dessicated spinsters, while men are either gentle heroes or, more often, monsters. In one striking phrase near the end, she equates ‘sexual determinism’ with ‘mortal combat’.

Men were the chimeras of all our nightmares, the horned snakes haunting our most secret pools; each and every virile male a potential Frog Prince, Vampire, Saviour.

(‘Except, I must add, for Dodgson.’) Inasmuch as this book consummates the themes she has been exploring, there is, perhaps, a glimmer of hope in the climax: there is tragedy in store for our ethereal heroine, but Tubbs, alone among Ducornet's male ogres, shows some signs of remorse and reformation at the end. So perhaps she does see some remote possibility for the sexes to coexist peacefully after all.

Though I didn't give more than four to any one book, the Tetralogy of Elements is certainly a five-star achievement as a whole. It seems to have been written in a vacuum from other current dialogues about sexuality, social politics and even literary theory; it's completely its own world, slinky, tricksy, sexy, provocative, violent, fantastic, wonderful. Truly elemental. And written from some creative place of joy: I felt that there was pleasure in every sentence. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Sep 9, 2014 |
*note to self.copy from Al.
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 156478021X, Hardcover)

The language and action are as lush and intricate as William Morris Victorian wallpaper. Memory, the sister of silent Etherea, tells the story of their childhood with an eccentric father who trades Etherea for a piece of jade to Radulph Tubbs, a despicable character who is Queen Victoria's Dragon of Industry (Dickens would have disliked him intensely). Etherea magically disappears from Tubbs' grasp after he brutally attacks her, and in Egypt, a hunger artist who speaks in tongues plans a revenge that will surprise everyone.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:37 -0400)

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