on 28 September 2007
Dead frozen and misfigured, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is discovered, in the Grand Elysium Hotel up in the Austrian Alps by officers of the American army, in the last days of the Second World War. Scrawled over the walls of four rooms is his testament relating a story of ambition, corruption, conspiracy and failure set against a backdrop of war and death.
Whose history, whose story survives? In an elegant, precise, gripping prose, Timothy Findley addresses this central postmodernist question using well known historical characters within the context of a past accessible to us only through texts. "All I have written here is true. Except the lies", Mauberley writes on the wall. By playing upon the truth and lies of historical records and by using false "historical facts", Findley comments on the ficitional character of recorded history, the failure of memory, the impossibility of truth, the inaccessibility of the reality of the past: "No one can be made to state it was absolutely thus and so. Nothing can be conjured of its size. In the end the sighting is rejected, becoming something only dimly thought on: dreadful but unreal".
Were Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor ever involved in a plot called Penelope? (No, despite the evidence presented) Did Mauberley ever meet Ezra Pound? (Yes and no, he is a fictional character of one Pound's poems). The reader is constantly faced with the blurred borders between real and fictitious as the meaning-creating narrative prose of Mauberley is faced with the brutal events of the past.
Famous Last Words is an ingenious novel that moves between the historical and the literary and the fictitiousness of both.
on 1 November 2001
It's always exciting to find a new author and realise that there's a whole body of work out there to enjoy. Why on earth have we been deprived of Timothy Findley in Britain for so long? This novel was first published in Canada in the 80s, and "The Wars" in the 70s.
The main narrator of "Famous Last Words" is Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, and that conceit sets the tone - a profound and deep book which still plays with the reader teasingly. On one level, it is a wise, gripping and shocking analysis of the relationship of Mrs Simpson & the King - twining the greatest love-story of the 20th century in with the great evils of Nazism and war. But there is much more to it: reminds me of Eco at his best, e.g "Foucault's Pendulum".
AND - it's written literately in the past tense - a rare virtue these days!