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The Migration of Ghosts (original 1998; edition 1999)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0747542791, Paperback)Pauline Melville is the most exuberant of fatalists. In her second collection, The Migration of Ghosts, she moves between the civilized and the visceral, her tales phantasmagoric and hyperreal. In the first story, "The President's Exile," a brutal, petty, and very dead South American politician is assailed by his own sense of fraudulence as he relives scenes from his rise to power. President Hercules had always prided himself on his grasp of reality, "and it was this that made his present position so disturbing. He was not sure exactly what the reality was." Another more rambunctious tale is set in London, on the day of the Notting Hill Carnival. Six months earlier, Mrs. da Silva's husband-to-be went off for some rice but decamped to Marion, Ohio, instead. Now our sizable heroine, who has never missed a carnival--and whose "shimmying is like an earthquake in motion"--is on the road to renewal and, with luck, romance. Moving among several participants, Melville paints the day's explosive, jolly mayhem, creating nothing less than life's rich--and hilarious--pageant. Mrs. da Silva's son, for instance, suddenly has to head for the hospital, still dressed as "a muscular devil with stubby horns, fork, a black-and-red torso and painted legs stuck with tufts of goat hair." Needless to say, his getup is to have a lasting effect: "Two hours later, a tiny infant, fifteen minutes old, opens his eyes briefly in the delivery room, looks up from his father's arms and knows that life is going to be a nightmare."
Elsewhere, Melville's vision is less comic, though she rarely offers anything approximating a moral. In "Provenance of a Face," a reporter isn't too thrilled by her latest assignment, an interview with a celebrated mime who turns out to be far from the silent type. But what seems a satire about a monstrous ego turns into another thing entirely, thanks to one of the author's many reversals. Finally, no discussion of this book would be complete without some reference to "The Parrot and Descartes," an intellectual history with an avian difference. In 1611 an easily ruffled South American bird is captured and brought to England as a wedding gift for James I's daughter. Our feathered friend seems to possess eternal life--which in his case is far from a gift--and now he's condemned to witness mankind's every doltish move, including "one of the worst productions of The Tempest the world has ever seen." Books are just one of Monsignor Parrot's pet peeves, since he represents the oral tradition. Happily for us, Pauline Melville disagrees, and has written it all down. --Kerry Fried
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:11 -0400)
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