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Surreal tale of an outcast
on 22 August 2005
Set in the prison-fortress of an unnamed state, INVITATION TO A BEHEADING is a surreal tale chronicling the last days of Cincinnatus C., a man condemned and sentenced to death for... well, what exactly? Apart from the phrase "Gnostical Turpitude" and subtle accusations of being "opaque", his crime is never properly revealed, although throughout the story we learn (courtesy of Cincinnatus's fragmented scribblings) that he is in some way different or special.
At one point he recalls levitating out of a window. In a different memory he overhears group of people whispering "He is one of them, he is a..." - The chatter isn't finished and we never learn what Cincinnatus C. is or what he has done.
Whatever the true nature of his crime is, at the story's start Cincinnatus is found guilty and transported to a yellow-walled cell in a vast prison (in which he is the sole captive). For 20 days he is tormented in peculiar ways by his perversely mundane keepers. As time passes, Cincinnatus increasingly believes his jailers are not who they appear to be.
This short novel will probably flummox those who want a straightforward narrative, yet I think its dislocated symbolism and pathos will appeal most to the reader who (for whatever reason) feels marginalized by the status quo of what is normal and what is culturally expected. Cincinnatus C. is agitated and numbed by a yearning for escape and honesty, while the interferers around him are full of themselves with empty boasts, smug ambition and false concern.
Written in a fluid prose style and marked by smoke-&-mirrors imagery, INVITATION TO A BEHEADING is an absurdist classic: a strange snapshot of an outsider's dissolving life.