Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Reading List: The Book of Revelation: Rupert Thomson

Rupert Thomson is a master storyteller. The Book of Revelation makes for a grim but mesmerising read. It tells the story of a young male dancer who is abducted from the street one day by three women who mortify him for their own sexual gratification for eighteen days before releasing him back into a world that can no longer provide any security. The erotic tension between distancing and empathy saves the novel from slipping into the murky realm of pornography or cheap titillation. And the muscular elegance of Thomson's prose ensures that the dancer’s predicament, although graphically described, is always more powerfully disturbing than it is arousing.

The work of the dancer is work that both reveals and conceals the self. Audiences must be prepared to interpret and witness the body. Thomson uses this to haunting effect in this novel,  which is all about uncovering in one way or another. Uncovering the truth about what has happened; uncovering the body; uncovering the motivations for art and self-expression. There is a dark, dream-like quality to the novel, but it is a cogent dream, a dream full of narrative satisfaction. The novel is beautifully written and utterly compelling, but it does leave you feeling rather ashen. The revelations it uncovers are insights we flinch from, as though we cannot deserve what is truly beautiful.

The novel is constructed in three parts, with the middle section which details the imprisonment written in the third person, a technique which exemplifies the emotional reality of the dancer, a man profoundly and increasingly psychologically distanced from himself. This is an intriguing artistic decison which places the reader at a slight distance, so that we are encouraged to see the dancer as his captors do, as an object to be used. The dancer is no longer a person with agency and direction. For this section of the novel  he is at the mercy of someone else's vision. He perceives the world, and himself, in fragments. His challenge for the rest of the novel, will be to reassemble a version of wholeness that will work.

In A Book of Revelation, Thomson prompts some profoundly unsettling questions about the nature of power, identity and society, and these are concerns that fuel all his novels.

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