Friday, May 25, 2007

Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon by Tom Stoppard

I've already declared my fandom of Tom Stoppard's plays, so I was excited to see a reissue of his 1966 novel, which was described as "zany" by the Washington Post and indeed it is. The plot includes among other things, a runaway lion, a biographer with a bomb in his pocket (and no knowledge of how it got there, when it will go off or how to rid himself of it), and a lord in a livery coach with a blatantly unfaithful wife, as well as some cowboys. The plot is random to say the least, the dialogue as sharp and funny as you'd expect, and the characters surprisingly warm. Why surprisingly warm? Because one of the things you don't get in a play is point of view (what the characters are thinking), and instead the characters must be warmed by the actors who play them, so it was the thing Stoppard was least likely to be good at. But actually he was good with point of view.

When I read novels like this, which don't have a very sensible cause and effect plot that makes meaning easy to distinguish, I try to figure out what makes the novel still work structurally and in this case it's largely motifs that recur (the lion, the bomb), often in unexpected places, that make the novel feel of a piece. And when I break it down further, the structure is actually quite conventional (yes, the bomb does go off)--while many strange things occur without cause, they generally occur in chronological order and in the end, they affect the characters, especially Mr. Moon, and so a traditional character arc is complete. And further zaniness ensues.

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