Rupert Thomson has a solid reputation as a cult writer: his earlier books have garnered increasing acclaim without ever really propelling him into the authorial big time. Still, his 1998 novel, Soft!
, marked a definite upswing in terms of recognition. And it would be a shame if The Book of Revelation
, his sixth and latest, didn't continue this trend, given its level of psychological and aesthetic daring.
The narrator of Thomson's book is a dancer living in Amsterdam. One day he goes out to buy some cigarettes for his girlfriend--also a dancer--and is kidnapped and held for a period of time before being released. It would be unfair to give away too much more. But suffice it to say that each development adds an additional coordinate to what we might call the novel's emotional geography. Indeed, the Dutch metropolis seems to be a full participant in this intricate fiction:
There was a sense in which the city had been trying to tell me something all along. You'll never solve this case. You might as well forget it. But I had not been listening, of course. Look at the map. It's all there, in a way. The whole story.
At a time when so many writers are obsessed with trauma--particularly child abuse and its psychological fallout--Thomson chooses to explore the concept through an event that is both more and less sensational. The narrator's ordeal evokes the sort of highly ritualized bastinado that we encounter in, say, Story of O
. Yet the author distances us from these events by switching from the first to the third person, a simple device that complicates and deepens the effect of the book as a whole.
Thomson's strange, disturbing tale asks profound questions about the burden of the past, especially of past events that set one apart from others. In this sense, The Book of Revelation chips away at the very notion of objectivity. How do we relate to others when we have experienced events that defy explanation or resolution? Perhaps such truths can be delivered only by (as it were) revelation. --Burhan Tufail
From Publishers Weekly
Thomson, a brilliant Londoner, certainly never writes the same book twice. Air and Fire was a wonderfully ambient tropical adventure, Soft a devastating contemporary London thriller. Revelation which resembles his previous novel, The Insult, more than either of these, ponders the consequences of an extreme episode in the life of an attractive (and unnamed) English ballet dancer and choreographer working in Amsterdam. One day, on a brief sortie to buy cigarettes for his lovely girlfriend, he is abducted by three mysterious masked women and held for nearly three weeks as a chained sexual slave in a bright room somewhere in the city. He is tattooed, violated, painfully tethered by his penis. He fights to preserve his equilibrium, gives the women imaginary names, tries to memorize their bodies. Then, as suddenly and unexpectedly as he was taken, he is released and must resume his existence. But his life has been twisted out of joint--his girlfriend doesn't believe his story; he finds he cannot work and becomes obsessed with searching for the women. Aided by a sudden legacy, he travels the world for several years, a lonely and disaffected soul in search of an anchor. Finally, back in Amsterdam, thinking he has discovered one of his captors, he assaults a girl in a club and is arrested. All this is conveyed in Thomson's usual fluent and riveting style, and the effect is mesmerizing. It is also affectless, however, for once the gripping sex-slavery episode is over, the book seems like a long anticlimax, which is concluded in a peculiarly unsatisfying way. Thomson can never be dull, and the notion of a man trying to recover from the consequences of rape is an intriguing one. Despite this narrative's glittering surface, however, it is not one of his sharper efforts. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.