Sunday, 15 March 2015

Bay of Souls - Robert Stone

Bay of Souls by Robert Stone

Bay of Souls is the seventh and last novel by the late American master Robert Stone, who died earlier this year.  There are echoes here of other US masters - Hemingway in the love of hot exotic climes, James Dickey in the dissonance between man and nature - but Stone nevertheless conjures up something unique.  He adds the trope of academia, previously ploughed by Roth and Bellow, but again Stone's is different - a backwater university of no great account.  It is not our hero, Michael, who is the fish out of water here - far from it, we get the impression that this is the best he could have hoped for.  No, the fish out of water is Lara the Caribbean temptress, who is definitely slumming it.

Inexplicably, we think, she and Michael start an affair.  Michael cannot believe his luck and is prepared to abandon his wife, his son, his reputation such as it is - anything to keep Lara onside.  Lara, of course, has an ulterior motive, which is to get Michael to come with her back to her home island.  Michael, you see, is an accomplished diver and Lara desperately needs something retrieved from the deep.  That is a physical something; while Michael is coerced into going after it, Lara abandons learning, sophistication, worldly achievement to perform the ancient voodoo-esque ritual to free the soul of her dead brother.

This is where Stone truly demonstrates his difference, treating the fantastical with as much consideration and probity as he treats the campus back in America.  Lara is not mocked or despaired over; Michael is not disdained or judged.  Instead, both principal characters judge themselves.

Unusual, accomplished, and well worth reading.

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