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Stevenson Under the Palm Trees Paperback – February 17, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A deeply disturbed Robert Louis Stevenson, in the last year of his life, becomes embroiled in the investigation of the rape and murder of a Samoan woman, as well as a case of arson, in this intriguing, if slight, tale from Argentinean-born writer Manguel (A History of Reading). When the depressed Stevenson reveals the darkness of his mood to his wife through his latest fiction, she castigates him. He then burns the manuscript in a fireplace. Mr. Baker, a Scottish missionary of perhaps overzealous intent, makes Stevenson's acquaintance as the story begins and is there at the end to render an explanation for the mayhem—an explanation that won't come as much of a surprise to those familiar with one of Stevenson's best-known novels. A fine stylist, Manguel punctuates the story with hyper-real descriptions of Samoa and Stevenson's memories of Edinburgh. The woodcuts by Stevenson himself that decorate the text add visual appeal, but this novelette will appeal more to readers of historical fiction than to crime fans.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Book-lover Manguel, whose most recent tale of the reading life, A Reading Diary, is also reviewed in this issue (see p.194), indulges both his delight in detective stories and his love for the work of Robert Louis Stevenson in this cozy literary mystery. The setting is Samoa, where Stevenson, afflicted with tuberculosis, is living with his family in tropical splendor. The writer revels in the openness of the voluptuous island, but nonetheless he is homesick and consequently is pleased to meet a Mr. Baker on the beach. But his fellow Scotsman is a missionary disdainful of both the natives and Stevenson's work, and there is something strange about both gentlemen. Then things get even more mysterious when a young woman is raped and murdered. As Manguel spins a clever variation on the Jekyll and Hyde theme, he muses on the role of stories in culture and the impossibility of fully translating the beliefs of one land into the language of another. Accompanied by Stevenson's woodcuts, this is a delectable little volume. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate UK (February 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841955981
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841955988
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.5 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,909,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Internationally acclaimed as an anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist, and editor, Alberto Manguel is the bestselling author of several award-winning books, including A Dictionary of Imaginary Places and A History of Reading. He was born in Buenos Aires, moved to Canada in 1982 and now lives in France, where he was named a Chevalier de l'Ordre français des Arts et des Lettres.

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. C. Walter on April 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This story is set during Robert Louis Stevenson's last days, as he attempts to continue writing while convalescing in Samoa. One day an Edinburgh missionary arrives on the island where Stevenson lives. He appears at chance moments to Stevenson and speaks in a manner both cryptic and threatening. Soon a series of terrible crimes occurs on the island, and the natives are certain that Stevenson is responsible.

As a story based on the "double" or "doppelganger" theme, Manguel's book can be located in the literary neighborhood of Poe's "William Wilson," Chekhov's "The Black Monk," and Dostoyevsky's "The Double." However, the story never does anything very unique to create an atmosphere of unease, nor does it travel deep enough into its characters or themes to rank with the best stories of this sort, such as Conrad's "The Secret Sharer" and "Heart of Darkness" or Gustav Meyrink's "The Golem" and "The Green Face"--let alone that masterwork of Stevenson's which Manguel obviously hopes to evoke, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Perhaps it is the fact that this long story, or short-ish novella, is bound between hardcovers that one expects something of greater weight and significance.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Guild TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I recently read and wrote a review on (December 3,2007) on "The Library at Night" by Alberto Manguel ;and was mesmerized with it. So,when I came across this little tome,I just had to pick it up. No question Manguel is a man who appreciates great literature and classics. He has spent his life in the pursuits of the writings of the people and books ,who and which,through the centuries ,are considered as the great men and books of literature.
Although I was subjected to this type of literature at school,as were most others,it was not something that enthralled me;and by no means contributed to my present love of books and reading. I was fortunate to have had a father who ,although he never had the opportunity to go to college,also had a great love of reading.He knew nothing of the classics,but had a great interest in politics and subscribed to "Hansard" the proceedings of the House of Commons of Canada. He read all these proceedings for about 40 years. Since there is a tremendous amount of information placed there,"for the record";he had acquired a vast amount of knowledge on many subjects. I doubt if Manguel ever read anthing from Hansard. My point is,that the love of reading is very personal, in what one reads.
This little tome about "Stevenson" was not particularly the type of thing I am attracted to ;so I ,in no way want to say it is good or bad.I am sure some will find it exceptionally good;but others ,like me,will just feel that it doesnt't "ring my bell".
It's been said "all novels fall into one of two themes;a man went on a journey or a stranger came to town".This seems to be the latter.
I don't want to make light of this little short story or novella;but if I were to think back on it a year or so from now ;I might be left with a couple of thoughts.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books, that when you're reading it, you stop, turn it over in your hand as though looking for the trick, like some magic act, you saw it happen, you were real close, but ......? This book is including notes and woodcuts (Stevenson's own) only 105 pages long and yet Alberto Manguel manage to pack in so much as it focuses on Robert Louis Stevenson's last days dying of consumption on a tropical island. It plays with the idea of moral duality as in Stevenson's own Novella (Jekyll and Hyde), is Baker real or some Edward Hyde persona of Stevenson's allowed free reign whilst he slept. Also the writers attitude to the indigenous population as childlike innocents whose amoral existence was counterpoint to his 18th century Scottish Calvinist upbringing. That Alberto Manguel has managed to conjure up through Stevenson's own Tales (The Beach of Falesa), letters and biography a beautiful little book that plays with many ideas and questions concerning sensuality and repression, waking and dreaming, plus the whole craft of writing itself. Like his mentor Jorge Luis Borges, Manguel seems to place his own reading centre stage in his writing, by which I mean his dominant subject matter are books themselves, not as some influence on his writing but as the subject of it. If I played the game of who I would invite to some fictitious dinner party, Alberto Manguel' s name would be high on that list, as he appears to be the epitome of a representative of the Reading Life.
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