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Chapman's Odyssey Hardcover – March 1, 2011
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Harry chats with Bartleby, the Scrivener, from Melville's novel of the same name, and tells the priest that he has his own spiritual resources - George Herbert, John Donne, and Marcus Aurelius. He remembers Henry IV, Part I, in which he once acted; calls up Jack Hawkins to act as his personal lookout, instead of Long John Silver's; and remembers the friend who introduced him to Babar and Celeste, at whose elephant wedding he imagines Fred Astaire dancing with Celeste. As thoughts of Virginia Woolf, Malcolm Lowry, and many other authors drift through Harry's befogged consciousness, he also reveals more private information about his own life - his friends, his enemies, and his lovers. His dour and hurtful mother Alice, "the perpetual dampener of every prideful feeling, [with] her bottomless bucket of ice-cold water perpetually at hand," is a constant, upsetting presence.Read more ›
Despite the title Paul Bailey's new novel is hardly a sequel to Homer and still less a tribute to George Chapman, the Elizabethan poet who first made Homer accessible to a vast readership, culminating in John Keats with his sonnet, `On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.' No, our hero is not Chapman, the poet and dramatist, and his voyages, alas, are extremely constricted, for throughout the novel Harry Chapman is confined to a hospital bed, from where, forever so to speak at death's door, he is subject to an array of physical and mental tortures as he tries to put his life into some sort of perspective before his inevitable demise.
Harry is obviously, like his author, steeped in literature, a lover of poetry and the quirks of language, a sometime teacher and writer of sorts. None of this would necessarily endear him to a modern reader not a fan of highbrow English literature.
The reader may well be tempted to conflate Harry with his author and find his constant so-so apt quotations to himself and to the surrounding hospital staff a little tedious and pedantic. To some extent this may be true; one would not relish spending half an hour at his hospital bedside while he spills out his learning and forever recites perfectly remembered lines. The many attendant nurses, medical orderlies, consultants and surgeons who visit him, however, seem to be fascinated and even delighted by their garrulously eccentric patient; they demand more and more. Give us a poem, Harry! Something cheerful, this time. And Harry duly obliges, sandwiching in between operations a little Shakespeare, Spenser or what-have-you before or after `going down to the theatre.Read more ›
Paul Bailey unfolds this journey in a way that is effortless, comic, and deeply poignant; it is utterly unsentimental. CHAPMAN'S ODYSSEY is the work of a great artist. It's a marvel.