Sunday, October 05, 2003

The Mask of the Beggar, like all Harris's fiction, is more than mere storytelling; it is an essay on the radical potential of art, an inquiry into the nature of historical memory, and a meditation on South American identity and the imaginative resources that its materially deprived peoples may possess. Never remotely sectarian or parochial, Harris draws on "a community of Imaginations", people such as Van Gogh, Wilde and Goethe, even Trotsky, who, before he was assassinated in Mexico, sought to promote unceasing revolution, which Harris relates to "the unfinished genesis of all art". His own lexicon, repeated with incantatory, magus-like force, invokes the central importance of imagination, diversity, mutuality, intuition.

Small wonder that Harris is considered arcane and difficult to read. But so are Dame Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot and Kathleen Raine, writers whose mystic mantle he has long sported. Perhaps if his novels were illustrated, Blake-like, then their slightly recondite, hieroglyphic essences might be more transparent. Yet, whether read in short, intense bursts, or in one go as an oceanic wash of sound and poetry, it's almost impossible not to succumb to their strange, jarring, isolated power.

--From Sukhdev Sandhu's review of The Mask of the Beggar, published a few days ago in the Telegraph.

I'm still struggling with the book myself, apparently doing the almost impossible.

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