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Paperback The Ventriloquist's Tale Book

ISBN: 1582340269

ISBN13: 9781582340265

The Ventriloquist's Tale

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Condition: Very Good

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Book Overview

Pauline Melville conjures up vivid pictures both of savanna and forest and of city life in South America where love is often trumped by disaster. Unforgettable characters illuminate theme and plot: Sonny, the strange, beautiful and isolate son of Beatrice and Danny, the brother and sister who have a passionate affair at the time of the solar eclipse in 1919; Father Napier, the sandy-haired evangelist whom the Indians perceive as a giant grasshopper;...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Clash of culture and opposites......magically told

Pauline Melville has written a novel that ranks among the best to be published in the past few years. The subject is a familiar one : the clash of cultural opposites, the subtle tyranny of colonialism in liberal disguise, and the havoc they wreak on lives caught in-between, stranded in no man's land. But its treatment is both unique and magical. Melville is a brilliant writer. Her descriptive prose is so imaginative and incredibly sparkling the reader is quickly swept into an almost make-believe world of savannahs and wild rivers, where mysticism takes over from rationalism and dates and time of day are irrelevant. Scientific explanation has no place in a world filled with dramatic stories of how the moon and the stars and the galaxies that line the sky originate from the uncannily human-like action of fowl from the land and fish from the sea. In this mystical unspoiled world, you are encouraged to feel that even brother and sister incest isn't quite the unnatural and sordid business we are brought up to believe it is. The story of three generations of the McKinnon's living in South American Guyuana with its family secret is unveiled across two timelines, the present and the past. The dual storyline structure, each with its own love interest, resembles that of "Heat and Dust". The modern day love affair between the third generation half-breed Chofy McKinnon and visiting Czech scholar Rosa Mendelson is fraught with painful irony. Melville seems to be juxtaposing and questioning the "naturalness" of this cross cultural relationship against the incestous affair of the past and coming up with an answer that is apparant only from the way she ends the story. For those familiar with the works of Evelyn Waugh (especially "A Handful Of Dust"), there's also an eery reference to the obsessive reading of Dickens by the visiting Waugh to a native that positively shimmers. A lovely touch. Like "Wide Sagarso Sea" to "Jane Eyre". "The Ventriloquist's Tale" is a masterful piece of fictional writing that just has to be read. Go get it !

A unique look at the conflicts of ancient and modern ways.

The Ventriloquist's Tale opens and closes with addresses by a mysterious, third person ventriloquist/narrator, representing the old Amerindian culture of myth and magic of southern Guyana. This narrator indicates that he is not the hero of the book because, as he tells the reader, "Your heroes and heroines are slaves to time.... They've forgotten how to be playful and have no appetite for adventure." As the narrator unfolds the stories of the McKinnon family, half Scottish and half Wapisiana, we see illustrated in their lives the conflicts (and occasional melding) of their ancient ways with western science, religion, and exploitation. The narrator and, one understands, the author come down strongly on the side of the ancients, as the Amerindian characters enchant, amuse, and play with us while they show us their struggle with European intruders, including, at one point, Evelyn Waugh in search of inspiration. We laugh with them, even as they face privation and hardship, and see with their eyes how ridiculously arrogant and ignorant the intruders are, because the intruders do not see that "everyday life...[is] an illusion behind which [lies] the unchanging reality of dream and myth."Despite the repellent, incest subplot, we continue to like the characters, we are intrigued by the old beliefs that the eclipse of the sun by the moon is itself an incestuous act, and we understand how limiting it is to reduce eclipses and relationships solely to equations and to write research papers on the structural elements of myth. And we appreciate and rejoice in the brilliance of the Indians in "divining what you would like to hear and saying it, so you can never be really sure what we think....Ventriloquism at its zenith." A fascinating and unusual novel!

A handful of Lust

An Englishwoman arrives in Guyana to do some research on the travels of Evelyn Waugh in the region. She encounters Chofy, an Amerindian whose family gave Waugh shelter. Yet the truth is hard to discern, hidden by an epic story of forbidden love... 'The Ventriloquist's Tale' won the Whitbread First Novel Award, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. It's not difficult to see why, since this is a stunning read. Of the several excellent novels I have read this year, this one stands out as being the most consistent. It promises to deliver much, and does not fail to meet these high expectations. Pauline Melville has produced a highly brilliant debut novel. As befitting a tale by a ventriloquist, many voices are imitated, but imitated is too poor a word, for each voice is vibrant, alive, and wholly convincing. I read the novel mostly in one day, and I now feel bereft that I have finished it, and a poor wordsmith in comparison with Melville. It seems contrary, but my block has been caused by the mighty flowing narrative of this novel, the tides of which turn this way and that, in such a way that it is hard to describe, except to say that it is beautiful. This is the novel at its best: 'The Ventriloquist's Tale' could not work in any other medium, not least because it contains so many rich stories

A magical and complex narrative

This is a magical and complex narrative that speaks to the mystery of life and transcends the more immediate messages of conflicting cultures and the evils of imperialism. The author gets deeply into the soul and substance of Indian life on the savannahs of South America and wraps the reader with the wisdom of people whose lives are intertwined with their natural surrounding. I can only wonder with amazement how this apparently British writer knows so much about the vegetation and animal life and look and feel of this landscape. Her scene of fireflies creating a carpet that mimics the sky left me breathless. This book is a compelling and intriguing story but also a work of poetry. I am a writer too, but as Charles Durning said of George C. Scott (in my latest book It Happened on Broadway/co-author Harvey Frommer)"I wish I had some of that."

Whitbread Winner for first novel.

In a bookjacket blurb for the British edition, Salman Rushdie describes Melville as "a beguiling new voice....one of the few genuinely original writers to emerge in recent years." High praise. The Ventriloquist's Tale opens and closes with addresses by a mysterious, third person ventriloquist/narrator, representing the old Amerindian culture of myth and magic of southern Guyana, a narrator who indicates that he is not the hero of the book because, as he tells the reader, "Your heroes and heroines are slaves to time.... They've forgotten how to be playful and have no appetite for adventure." As the narrator unfolds the stories of the McKinnon family, half Scottish and half Wapisiana, we see illustrated in their lives the conflicts (and occasional melding) of their ancient ways with western science, religion, and exploitation. The narrator and, one understands, the author come down strongly on the side of the ancients, as the Amerindian characters enchant, amuse, and play with us while they show us their struggle with European intruders, including, at one point, Evelyn Waugh in search of inspiration. We laugh with them, even as they face privation and hardship, and see with their eyes how ridiculously arrogant and ignorant the intruders are, because the intruders do not see that "everyday life...[is] an illusion behind which [lies] the unchanging reality of dream and myth."Melville, is, thankfully, not one of the Magic Realists, nor is she a satirist. By presenting the taboo subject of incest realistically as a primary plot line, she emotionally involves the reader--after all, who, among us westerners, is not instinctively repelled by the idea--yet we like the characters involved, we are intrigued by the old beliefs that the eclipse of the sun by the moon is itself an incestuous act, and we understand how limiting it is to reduce eclipses and relationships solely to equations and to write research papers on the structural elements of myth. We see that Father Napier is driven mad because he believes "these [Indians] think entirely in the concrete....[They] have no word for sin, virtue, mercy, kindness, truth..." And we appreciate and rejoice in the brilliance of the Indians in "divining what you would like to hear and saying it, so you can never be really sure what we think....Ventriloquism at its zenith." A fascinating and unusual novel!
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