Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Voyage of the Short Serpent by Bernard du Boucheron

"I finally determined that the guilty should have one eye gouged out, a penalty harsh enough to discourage them from trying it again, whilst preserving the abilities they would need ... for hunting, fishing, herding or plowing."

Thus, the narrator in this short novel, translated from French, continues his report of his voyage to rescue the lost colonies of New Thule (Greenland I presume). This allegory, never clear as to time (middle ages I presume) or place (northern Europe I presume) dramatizes the brutal interaction between civilized, religious, arrogance and primitive inhabitants in a frozen world.

A seen in the opening quote the narrator, a Bishop, rationally follows his naive cultural assumptions to tortuous results. This is not a book for the fainthearted as gouging out of eyes is a minor part of the depravity that explicitly includes the complete range of imaginable and unimaginable sexual activities, much cannibalism, and other forms of mayhem and murder.

Do you want allegory about the disastrous effect of civilization on the primitive world? This is a good one, though I think this topic has been covered in so many historically accurate books, that I don't see the purpose of an allegorical novel at this late date. However, if you are of a mind to read this as a condemnation of self-righteous torture, you might find it very topical and entertaining. As the book was published in France in 2004, this reading might be justified.

Do you want a novel with climax and resolution? Well, I'd skip this one. The narrator is unchanged from his opening lack of empathy for the sailors suffering to transport him to New Thule to the closing when he watches the mother of his child being stoned on the beach as he leaves.

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