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The 27th Kingdom: a novel Paperback – January 1, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The 27th Kingdom is as mystical as it is malicious, a dark, surreal comedy about secrecy and self-deception. Chelsea, circa 1954, has its fair share of chatty bohemians, and Dancing Master House is positively overflowing with them. Its principal inhabitants are Aunt Irene, who fancies herself a "patron of the astonishing" and has a great fondness for horsemeat, and her vile nephew. Kyril is annoyingly handsome and has an entirely bad character. When a beautiful, black, and almost entirely silent postulant arrives for a brief stay, she quietly throws a theological spanner into the works--exposing and yet somehow protecting the two, and several other Londoners, from their worldly problems. Valentine doesn't so much need to test her vocation as to quell her miracle-working tendencies. At least according to the Mother Superior of her Welsh convent, who happens to be Aunt Irene's sister. Can this "vivid and alien" being, however, save Aunt Irene from a showdown with the taxman (who may be someone else entirely)? In the meantime, will Kyril manage to seduce her? And will Focus, the house's pillowy Persian, ever get near the rat that's been taunting him? Pleasingly, this pussycat has more insight than most of Ellis's humans, particularly when it comes to Aunt Irene's human kitten:
He'd morosely witnessed Kyril's numberless conquests, comparing him with the neighbourhood's dominant tom, a scratty looking object who stalked Cheyne Row. Focus had been made a eunuch for the sake of the sweetness of the air in Dancing Master House. He was glad, because it enabled him to take a removed and measured view of affairs--human, feline and, indeed, divine.
As she moves among her main characters, and as things go from mad to worse, Ellis constructs a fractured fable of good and evil. Not that she's interested in whacking us over the head. After all, as Aunt Irene's sister puts it: "How the vulgar loved portents, prodigies and the untoward. Only the religious knew how embarrassing they could be--and quite beside the point." This 1982 novel may not be as elegant as some of Ellis's other books. On the other hand, it's hard to resist a knowing, noisy exploration of the perfections of silence and the mysteries of belief. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

God works in mysterious ways, through an unlikely catalyst in beloved British writer Ellis's witty novel, a fable about the immanence of spiritual blessing in a crass society. Nominated for the Booker when it was published in England in 1982, this is its first appearance here. During the 1950s, Valentine, a beautiful black West Indian woman, is sent from the convent in Wales where she is a postulant, to live temporarily in London with the Mother Superior's sister, Irene Wojtyla, called Aunt Irene by everyone. Though she is quiet and self-contained, Valentine's arrival occasions a series of strange events that unsettle Irene and others in her frowsy bohemian household. Irene is the descendant of Russian ?migr?s who finally came to rest in Britain, their 27th place of exile. She lives with her nephew Kyril, a vain, self-satisfied, intensely dislikable young man; a boarder called "little Mr. Sirocco"; and a clever cat named Focus. Others in the house are the envious daily cleaning lady, Mrs. Mason, the doormat for her viciously alcoholic husband, and a family of amiable Cockney rogues who keep Irene supplied with stolen goods for her house and table, so that she avoids paying taxes. Irene is the outsider and iconoclast through whose eyes Ellis makes droll and sardonic observations about the English: their strange eating habits, social conventions and attitudes toward class and race. Of course, Valentine is the ultimate outsider, and when it seems that she is the source of small miracles, everyone is confounded. Reading Ellis (The Sin Eater) is always a salubrious experienceAone laughs at her whiplash humor while marveling at the ease with which she depicts eccentric but fully recognizable members of society. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Moyer Bell and its subsidiaries; 1 edition (January 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559213930
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559213936
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This book is full of surprises. It's zany, quirky, and very wise -- all at once. At first the flavor of it -- so different from anything else I'd read -- made me question whether or not I liked it. As I continued reading I acquired a taste for it -- an experience similar to developing a taste for olives.
Placing a saint among secular eccentrics in 1950's Chelsea leads to all sorts of irritations for the ordinary mortals. I found myself loving Valentine, the mystical postulant, whose spiritual wholeness embarrasses her convent, bewilders her pursuers, and creates quiet comedy wherever she goes.
Here are four little quotes from a scene in which Valentine, on her first morning at Mrs. Mason's, rises early and goes to the kitchen. The author tells us, "Kitchens, being necessary, were as holy as bread and water, and were at their best, in peaceful readiness, at this innocent time of day..." and, "Valentine moved like a fish through water, accomplishedly, barely stirring the silence. It was a trick nuns learned: to be very quiet in case of still small voices."
How could such innocent sweetness offend anyone? We find out when Mrs. Mason and her adult son, Kyril, enter the room.
"'Do you habitually rise before God?' enquired Kyril of Valentine, in the light clear tone that was one of the characteristics that made people want to beat him up."
"'Have a croissant, dear,' (Kyril's mother) said to Valentine, momentarily disliking her for causing Kyril to be unkind."
If any of this strikes you funny, too, you just might relish this book.
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Format: Hardcover
In this wickedly dark comedy, Alice Thomas Ellis once again examines the lives of oddball outsiders, people who live in seemingly normal neighborhoods but who never quite belong to mainstream life there. Irene Wojtyla, the owner of Dancing Master House in Chelsea, is descended from Catholics who fled Russia and wandered across 27 lands and 30 countries before finally coming to rest in London, while her sister Berthe has landed Wales, where she is the Mother Superior of a convent. Aunt Irene, the adoptive mother of a tubercular and malicious nephew Kyril, has also been adopted by Focus, a white cat, who vainly attempts to vanquish the rat which constantly taunts and torments him.
When the sometimes psychic Aunt Irene agrees to take in a postulant from Sister Berthe's convent, the beautiful, black Valentine, who seems to have mystical powers, Irene casually reclaims the room she has illegally rented to "little Mr. Sirocco," leaving him homeless in order to provide a room for Valentine. Mrs. Mason, whose derelict husband is constantly drunk, serves as cleaning woman in the household, while the nearby O'Connor brothers keep the house supplied with horsemeat and antiquities obtained through thievery.
As these eccentric characters move almost randomly around London, the author shows the transcience of life and the strange acts of fate which change lives. Aunt Irene spends much of her time trying to avoid the tax man, Focus keeps trying unsuccessfully to catch the rat, Sister Berthe keeps waiting for an eternally fresh apple picked by Valentine to shrivel, Kyril keeps trying to figure out how to seduce Valentine, and death suddenly intrudes into people's lives.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this novel with my book club. We have read G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O'Connor, and Ron Hansen, so we are well versed in Catholic authors who have a slightly off-beat view of the world. Alice Thomas Ellis fits right into that mold. Set in post-WWII Britain in the mid-50's, this novel watches the changes that take place among a small community of friends (though none of them would describe themselves as friends) when a young nun comes to stay with them. From the opening paragraphs I found myself reading with a slight grin on my face, appreciating the subtle humor and carried along by the quite visual writing. This is a gem of a story!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eccentric Englishmen.....one of my favorite books
NOT what you'd expect, but worth the read
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