Paula's Reviews > Hope
by Dennis Phillips
by Dennis Phillips
For at least half of this rather long novel (574 pp), I was entranced & would have given the book 5 stars. However, at some point 2/3 of the way in, I started to get bored. Structurally, at first, Hope interweaves several stories & at first the reader is pleasantly at sea, lost among the dreamer, the dream & the dreamt. There are two primary tales, each with doubles: the first takes place in 13th century Italy & involves the monk Father Guido Benedictus (our guide & benediction) & Chiara Masci,(clarity & perhaps charity) his sister-in-law (his brother Thomas married her sister). To complicate matters, the recently deceased pope was Chiara's brother & Guido & Thomas's childhood friend. Father Benedictus & Chiara are left on an uninhabited island where they eventually entertain or educate themselves with a tale they tell themselves wherein Thomas & his daughter Gemma are still alive on the island as well. We learn at some point that the story of Benedictus & Chiara is one written by the poet Joseph Spero (Prospero) himself exiled to an uninhabited island after having been arrested by agents of the Central Authority while in Scotland with a friend (Emerson!). Further in, Joseph's story switches to his self-imposed exile at a paradisaical house on the Big Island of Hawaii (one offered to him by a world-renowned musician friend Mendelssohn). He has run away to escape his obsession with what he sees as his betrayal by his friend, his abandonment by his married lover Carmen & thinly veiled threats to his well being by Carmen's ex-husband Roger. I was disappointed that Phillips dropped the Joseph Spero Robinson Crusoe narrative in favor of the Hawaii get away while keeping both versions of the medieval tale in play. I became bored with Joseph Spero, the escapee poet, his minutely described sex life with Carmen & later Elizabeth & his overall self-indulgence. (spoiled brat) I find many of the novels that are set in University English Departments or the world of publishing (an actual poetry publishing world is a bit hard to believe) just uninteresting. Although any milieu should be ripe for fiction, those two seem worn out to me. Read Hope for the dream & Father Benedictus while metaphorically kicking solipsistic Joseph Spero in the shins.
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