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By J. G. Merquior

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Thomas published The White Hotel, a phantasmagoric novel in many voices which recreated a Freudian analysis of a lost trauma, and also retold the horrors of Babi Yar, in words so derivative that – despite our sophistication, even then, about faction, postmodern quotation, ‘framing’ truth with fiction, or interweaving the two in the way I admire immensely in Peter Everett – it was accused of plagiarism, and felt to gain its chief shock from someone else’s purloined text. R. Rivers as her central character – along with Siegfried Sassoon, the real poet, and Billy Prior, an invented officer risen from the northern working-class.

His hero visits a film festival in the Third Reich, unintentionally saves Himmler’s life, like Wodehouse broadcasts on 21 Copyright © 2000 The President and Fellows of Harvard College ON HISTORIES AND STORIES behalf of the Nazis (but codes in the messages ‘Fuck the bloody Nazis’, and ‘May Hitler rot in Hell’). Burgess writes invented hagiography, invented music-hall songs, invented newspaper reports, invented documentary into his compendious mock-epic, which is at once a deadly serious allegory about Good, Evil, and Ambiguity, and a papery farce.

The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde is both a loving reading and resurrection of Wilde, and a wonderful intertextual faking of his voice. Hawksmoor is a brilliant rendering of the voices of Nicholas Dyer in 1711, constructing London churches on an occult programme, and the modern detective, Hawksmoor, who is investigating the disappearance and murder of children. The novel turns on riddling images of circular, or eternally repeating time, closed in on itself like mirrors – in the end the two men face each other as man and image, and blend.

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