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Hermione Lee's review of 'Dreaming of Babylon'
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Curtains | Dreaming of Babylon by Richard Brautigan

by Hermione Lee?

These four narrators are in deep trouble. Victims or witnesses of the most macabre and horrifying possibilities that modern life - particularly American life - allows, they are hanging on like grim death to a sense of themselves. But selfhood is violently at risk in these doom-laden thrillers; there is no room for heroes or heroines, and probably not even for human beings, any more.

[The review goes on to talk about Gore Vidal's Kalki and MacDonald Harris's Yukiko.]

Harris's authenticity and Vidal's grown-up inventiveness make Brautigan look childish. His rules are too restrictive; his convention of negating or parodying all conventions has become tiresomely rigid. This winsome pastiche of Chandler only makes one yearn for Chandler's own solidity of plot and complexity of characters, attributes which a freewheeling minimalist fiction cannot afford. Instead, bijou chapterettes, not long enough to look serious, tell the story strip-cartoon style. Set in San Francisco, 1942, it follows the misfortunes of a hopeless but cute private-eye with no bullets to his gun, unable to concentrate because he's always dreaming of being a champion baseball player in 596 BC, who's employed by a daunting blonde to steal a corpse from a one-legged morgue attendant but is prevented by the ruthless Sergeant Rink, who quells his opponents by shutting them in the morgue ice-box with the stiffs. And so on.

[The review goes on to talk about A. Alvarez's Hunt.]


New Statesman
April 14, 1978: 500

Note: The above is an excerpt from a longer article which includes reviews of Kalki by Gore Vidal, Yukiko by Macdonald Harris, Dreaming of Babylon by Richard Brautigan, and Hunt by A. Alvarez.

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