canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain
Jeffrey Moore
Thistledown Press, 1999

Reviewed by Richard di Santo.

At first glance, the idea behind Jeffrey Moore's first novel is enticing. Its protagonist Jeremy Davenant stumbles through life, half believing that his fate is written on a single page ripped at random out of an encyclopedia. He meets a mysterious woman, falls in love with her immediately (one could say, even before he sees her), and believes that her fate is somehow entwined with his. However, where the basis for the story is alluring, its execution is far from commendable. Mr. Moorešs prose reads awkwardly; his descriptions are often forced and inadequate. As Jeremy says about his own 'gifts' as a storyteller: 'but even after I exaggerated the danger I was in, the story failed to carry the desired punch'.

This statement characterises much of Moore's novel. Its failure is due to the general lack of interesting or convincing characterisations. For instance, the love interest Milena is supposed to be enshrouded in mystery. Our hero spends the better part of his (and the reader's) time trying to penetrate this enigma. But Moore insists on the mystery surrounding Milena so much that the point becomes moot. The power of suggestion seems to have eluded the author on this issue. Moore turns a potentially intriguing character into nothing more than a bore, an obsession of the novel's good-for-nothing narrator.

Some potential in the novel arises out of a minor whodunit plot surrounding the death of one of the neighbours. The dead man also has a connection with Milena, and so this adds a more complicated dynamic in an already strange relationship. However, a whodunit only works well if there is genuine interest in the characters involved, an interest which is generally lacking here. Characteristic of the narrative as a whole, the mystery unfolds with a whimper, and at the novel's end the reader is left to wonder if there was any reason for the pursuit to begin with.

Although it has very little to offer its reader, this is a competent first novel from translator-turned-novelist Jeffrey Moore, but one that should have undergone extensive revision before its publication.

Richard di Santo studied literature and philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is currently working on a collection of essays on literary theory and alchemy.







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