Sunday 21 May 2017

An Overcoat: Scenes from the afterlife of H.B. by Jack Robinson  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
In 1819 Henry Beyle, better known by his pen-name Stendhal, is rejected yet again by Mathilde, Countess Dembowska, the woman he loves. He vows never to give up and consequently lives on past his death in 1842 and into contemporary times (that is to say, contemporary with the readers and author of this wonderful little book), an untarnished vector of romantic longing and novelistic acuity. In this subtle and playful text, which exemplifies the virtue of lightness championed by Italo Calvino, Charles Boyle (Boyle/Beyle), writing under his pen-name Jack Robinson, dissolves the distinction between historical fact and creative freedom, allowing each to infect or lubricate the other. Composed mostly of footnotes (and of footnotes to the footnotes), the brief impressionistic sections display and connect a wide experience of reading, thinking, feeling and writing, Boyle and Beyle twitching either end of a web of literary circuitry. Identities are interchangeable, pen-names, however ridiculous, take on personalities of their own that interface with their creators as equals, or replace them, the most quotidian of details are turned over to reveal the unrequited longing that lies beneath, multilayered games are played with the expectations of readers (and the expectations of writers, too). It is appropriate that one of the pioneers of fiction’s capacities to explore the psychological subtleties of fictitious characters should be the putative subject of a book that is really a fictional essay on fiction’s capacities to explore the psychological subtleties of characters both fictitious and ‘real’.

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