By Paul Bailey
(Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, Paperback, 9781608198214, 211pp.)
Publication Date: July 17, 2012
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Stuck in a hospital and heavily medicated, Harry Chapman doesn't just hear the doctors, nurses, and other patients. Is that the voice of his mother, acerbic and disappointed in him as ever? Perhaps her presence would be understandable enough, but what is Pip from "Great Expectations "doing in his hospital room? More and more voices join the chorus: friends from childhood, lovers, characters from novels and poetry. His father, fighting in World War I. Babar and Celeste, who dances with Fred Astaire. Jane Austen's Emma. Harry's aunt Rose, "a stranger to moodiness." A man who wants to sell Harry T. S. Eliot's teeth. And, of course, an old friend who turns up at Harry's bedside principally to rehearse the litany of his own ailments.
Slowly, endearingly, the life of Harry Chapman coalesces before our eyes, through voices real and imagined. Written with a gentle, effortless generosity, full of delicate observation, "Chapman's Odyssey "is the work of a master; a superbly rendered act of storytelling and ventriloquism that is stinging, witty, deeply moving, and wise by turns, but always explores the nature of love.
Paul J. Bailey is Reader in East Asian History at the University of Edinburgh. He formerly taught at Lingnan College, Hong Kong and the University of Durham, England. His previous publications include "Postwar Japan: 1945 to the Present" (Blackwell, 1996), "Strengthen the Country and Enrich the People: The Reform Writings of Ma Jianzhong 1845-1900" (1998) and "Reform the People: Changing Attitudes to Popular Education in Early Twentieth-century China" (1991).