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The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro and Other Stories Hardcover – January 12, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (January 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618265155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618265152
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #397,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Theroux's characteristic haze of exoticism hangs over this uneven collection of two novellas and two stories, ushered in by the gothic title novella, which tells a tale of sexual perversity in Taormina, Sicily, in 1962. Gilford Mariner, a young American artist, is traveling around Italy imagining himself as a hero in an Antonioni movie. But when he encounters a rich German countess ("the Grafin") and her consort, Haroun, a Chaldean doctor, the movie turns into a Visconti: baroque, kinky and slightly kitschy. Haroun pays for Mariner to become the Gr„fin's lover, an alternately arousing and demeaning chore from which Mariner is only released when Haroun reveals the countess's "secret." In the four parts of "A Judas Memoir," Andy, the narrator, is a preteen Catholic in Medford, Mass., in an era when sexual repression meant something: the 1940s. Evelyn Frisch is a bold nymph who shows Andy the wonders of female urination in his back yard before his parents put a stop to it. We then jump to the affair between a horny schoolmate's mother and a milkman, and the perplexing discovery, on the part of Andy and his buddies, that the local priest, Father Staley, is a pedophile. In "An African Story," a Afrikaner farmer/writer is disastrously fixated on a one-armed black woman. Finally, in "Disheveled Nymphs," a retired lawyer becomes so infatuated with the mother and daughter team who clean his house in Hawaii that he stalks them on their vacation to Vegas. Theroux's title story is bigger on portentousness ("This is my only story," it begins) than revelation. By contrast, the quieter moments in other stories (Evelyn Frisch's giggling micturations, the Hawaiian maids' casual putdowns) are real gems of observation.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

The corruption of the flesh—by age and by lust—is the prevailing obsession of Theroux's story collection. In the title novella, a young American student meets an idle German countess at a Sicilian hotel; envying her aloofness, he lets himself be recruited as her lover and discovers in himself the seeds of brutality. Elsewhere, an Afrikaner novelist forfeits his career for a one-armed black schoolteacher who invites him to treat her as a sexual slave. The life-changing affair with a woman of a different age and class is a creaky plot, but Theroux's psychological ruthlessness strips it of cliché. These are less stories than parables, weighted by an old-fashioned certainty that we must pay for our sins. Only in the final tale, about a lonely multimillionaire's desire for his sturdy cleaning ladies, does a note of pity creep in.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

More About the Author

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux's collection of two novellas and two stories centers thematically on forbidden desire and the eroticism it evokes: between the old and the young, the employer and the employee, the priest and the boy, the wife and the milkman. Like much of Theroux's work, the corruption of innocence plays an important role in the unfolding of these tales.
The title novella is a story within a story: a sixty year old American painter who arrives in Sicily to mark the period when he was twenty-one and entered into a bizarre relationship with an older and wealthy German woman. The reader is thrown into the lengthy flashback of how the painter came to know this woman, the Grafin, and her traveling companion. The Grafin turns out to be a sadist by day, a masochist by night, and the graphic encounters between the young man and the older woman contrast sharply with the civility and aloofness they maintain in public. The secret that was revealed to the young painter haunts him even years later, on his sixtieth birthday, when he encounters a nubile seventeen year old not far from where he first saw the wealthy woman. This frame is Theroux's weakness here, as the end turns on a gimmick instead of true emotion. Beautifully written but mannered, the novella does not achieve anything more than a fleeting pleasure.
The other novella, A Judas Memoir, is told in four parts, and follows Andy, a boy with the first stirrings of desire. His first encounters with sex are painful, humiliating, and violent: a nun twists his ear as he sees the girl he is infatuated with, he witnessed the nudity of the milkman sleeping with his friend's mother, and he and his friends nearly kill a pedophile who happens to be the priest of their parish.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krichman on January 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
At the heart of the four stories in this exceptional collection is the exploration of power relationships in which the master becomes the slave, sometimes by choice, sometimes by manipulation or deceit, and sometimes as a matter of circumstance. Theroux is intrigued by what happens when a rich, aristocratic woman allows herself to be sexually dominated by a young, poor recent college graduate, or when a white South African writer, consumed by passion for a poor black woman, finds himself losing everything he has as a result of his pursuing her. In two other stories, he skillfully examines a group of young boys as they seek revenge against their priest, and a retired lawyer who finds himself at the mercy of his hired help after he follows them on their Las Vegas vacation. Each story is a classic case of role reversal. In each, the typical lines of authority are turned upside down, resulting in some fascinating discoveries about the essence of relationships and human character.

The first and title story is by far the best; both the story and the prose attain a height of mastery that aren't quite achieved in the following three stories. The writing has an ease and a grace that are hard to find, that only come from the most gifted of writers. And this is indeed writing with purpose. The `grafin', or countess, in this story, is an exquisitely drawn character, a perfect balance of royal aloofness and pretension with human vulnerability and insecurity.

The other three stories are treasures as well, though on a second tier. Of them, the best is "An African Story," in which Theroux first summarizes a half-dozen novellas written by a fictitious South African writer, then tells of the tragic downfall of the writer. The writer's stories, in many ways, foreshadow his own life's events in a way that underscores the intrinsic ties between life and literature.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By The JuRK on July 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've always been a Paul Theroux fan so I found his latest fiction, THE STRANGER AT THE PALAZZO D'ORO, interesting for a couple of reasons:

The first is that we're reading about a 60-year-old man dealing with desire through his own life and the lives of others. Whether it's an aging countess from his own past or the ridiculous or tragic friends dealing with their own much-younger lovers, it was fascinating for me to read about people still grappling with lust, love and loss at a point in their lives when they should've figured that all out by now.

Perhaps that was Theroux's point: our own hearts will always remain a mystery no matter far we go or how much we see.

How much of this book reflects Theroux's own life?

That was the other reason I found this book so enjoyable: the first two novellas felt full of details from his own youth and I caught glimpses of incidents that would turn up in his earlier novels.

The countess in the first novella reminded me of the "patroness" from MY SECRET HISTORY. The boys plotting their revenge in the second novella reminded me of the comically-absurd caper of MURDER IN MOUNT HOLLY. The girl relieving herself outside of the boy's tent flashed me back to the "mutant" girl in the bathtub in O-ZONE.

Ultimately, I felt like I was listening to not only a great storyteller but also an elder trying to pass something on.

And it might be a warning.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Flipper Campbell VINE VOICE on February 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Paul Theroux's characters -- men and boys mostly -- don't evolve much beyond coming to terms with their their sexual desires, but these are compelling yarns that illustrate how everyday life can sometimes take a hard right into the Twilight Zone. The lengthy title story is your basic young-man-comes-of-age-with-older-woman, but its Italian venue and sexual slavery angle make it offbeat enough to hold the reader's attention through 108 pages. "An African Story," about a massive power shift in the relationship between a white landowner and his black mistress, also sucks in the reader with its twists and oddities. The foreign locations play to Theroux's strengths as a master travel writer. There is a novella about growing up in the U.S. that has its moments, but it's pretty basic boys-at-large material. The final tale about a retired lawyer obsessed with his Hawaiian maids recalls the African tale and has a curious charm. Theroux writes beautifully at times and these are fine stories for the most part, but there are better recent story collections working the same turf -- Richard Ford's "A Multitude of Sins" comes to mind. And the title story of Elmore Leonard's "When the Women Come Out to Dance" seems to capture what Theroux is in search of here in far fewer pages.
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