Sunday, December 02, 2012

Capsule Review: The Horned Man

Written by James Lasdun
W.W. Norton & Co., 2002; 193 pages

Publisher's Description:
Lawrence Miller—an English expatriate and professor of gender studies—tells the story of what appears to be an elaborate conspiracy to frame him for a series of brutal killings. We descend into a world of subtly deceptive appearances where persecutor and victim continually shift roles, where paranoia assumes an air of calm rationality, and where enlightenment itself casts a darkness in which the most nightmarish acts occur. Written with sinuous grace and intellectual acuity, The Horned Man is an unforgettable excursion into the lethal battleground of desire and repression. 
Strange book, but an enjoyable read. Nothing is what it seems in the story of Lawrence Miller, English expat and professor of gender studies at an American college, who develops an obsession with the mysterious Bogomil Trumilcik, a former lecturer at the same college. Is Trumilcik really out to frame Miller for murder, or is the whole story one man's descent into madness? The mystery and paranoia keep building right up to the book's final pages.

One of my favorite passages comes early in the novel, when Miller realizes there's something strange about the configuration of furnishings in the office he's been assigned:
As I looked at the computer on its cumbersome desk, I was struck for the first time by the arrangement of furniture in that part of the room.  The two oversized desks had been pushed together in such a way as to contain, I realized now, an enclosed space at their center. How large it might be I couldn't tell from the outside, but I was suddenly curious.

I went over and pulled at one of the desks. Nothing budged at first, and it wasn't until I heaved at it with all my strength, bracing my foot against a raised rib on the side of the other desk, that I was able to slide it a few inches. I peered in through the gap: there did seem to be a sizable space in there. I prized the desks far enough apart to squeeze inside. (p.49)
And so begins all the craziness to come....

I've been meaning to read this one since it first came out, and I'm really glad I finally got around to it.

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