on 18 September 1997
Reading Alexander Theroux's wonderful big novel * Darconville's Cat * is like entering a teeming, utterly original word-world unlike any you have ever experienced. I'm not exaggerating when I say that every paragraph of this incredible book - nay, every sentence! - is packed with unique and often poetic observations, eccentric humor, and wide ranging knowledge branching breathlessly in so many directions that it is hard to keep pace with Theroux's fantastic imagination. Much has been made of his love affair with words - one envious reviewer even described this book as a "mountain" he had to climb. All litanies, doggerel, long lists and mathematical hypotheses aside, the central themes of the book are simple and age old - love found, lost, and the associated suffering and eventual redemption of the protagonist. Young, idealistic, black clothed Alaric Darconville, a professor at a Southern women's college, falls in love with a student, becomes engaged to her, and then is betrayed by her. The narrative moves along quite nicely, all 700 pages of it propelled by the force of its linguistic pyrotechnics. Like Steven Moore (of Dalkey Archive Press) I laughed out loud many times, constantly amused by the descriptions and witty dialogue of this novel's parade of Southern wackos - hilariously ignorant Southern Belles, malevolent rednecks, unhinged academics with names like "Dr. Dodypol" and "Dr.Glibbery". There's also unabashed romanticism/sentimentality here, and real pathos, as well as blistering diatribes against the female sex delivered by the strange and horrifying Dr. Crucifer, the titles of whose library fill 7 pages of the chapter "The Misogynist's Library" READ THIS BOOK!! And all else you can by this important author.
on 23 August 1999
The first two-thirds of Alexander Theroux' Darconville's Cat constitute one of the most powerful love stories I know of, on an equal plane with Sons and Lovers and Wuthering Heights. It is also a very penetrating, witty, yet passionate portrayal of an insanely aristocratic, self-preoccupied Virginia academic community. Unfortunately, the last third of the book, set in Harvard, is mostly an anticlimactic, sesquipedalian sort of verbal showing-off, much out of keeping with what precedes it. The ending, however, regains some of the power of the earlier parts of the narrative.
on 11 January 1997
Alexander Theroux is America's greatest living author, but you would never know it by listening to him speak of his own work.
It is not that he is particularly modest, although he maintains a comport you come to expect from PhDs in English.
It is, rather, the unshakable, low-Boston accent that gives his speech a "Tweety Bird" sort of twang, and may tend to throw you off the fact that the man is a veritable OED of literary and etymological integrity.
It could well be argued that the reason he is not currently lauded as being our greatest treasure is the fact that he does open his mouth, and some of what he has to say strikes the ear strangely. And some of those whose ears are so stricken have the power to keep the man's deserved reputation from full-dazzling.
Time, however, will give him a thousand tongues. And it will be this work, at least to date, that will be most remembered.
Of all his works, Darconville's Cat is the one where his imagination is allowed its most full expression, and the results are Joycean in their sheer intensity, breadth and color. His mastery of language is most apparent in this, his best work.
If you get this book, hang on to it. It has a way of finding its way into other's hands. . . and never making its way back. That is because it is so much like candy. You want to relish it. Coddle it. Bring it into a salad with a good dictionary and revel in this most entertaining way to expand one's vocabulary while expanding one's philosophy.
If you enjoy words and well-constructed sentences, paragraphs and chapters -- you will find much to keep you satisfied in this great work which deserves a place on your top shelf, along with Joyce, Shakespeare, Sterne, Rabelais, Erasmus, Voltaire and Dante.
Some of the wide-ranging stylistic devices may stretch one's concentration, but even this is not necessarily a blemish.
As you read and re-read this engaging tour de force, you will find these difficult areas becoming your favorite little watering holes.