Palace of the Peacock, Paperback Book

Palace of the Peacock Paperback

3 out of 5 (1 rating)


A tale of a doomed crew beating their way up-river through the jungles of Guyana.

In this novel, first published in 1960, can be traced the poetic vision, the themes and the designs of Harris's subsequent work, which included The Guyana Quartet.


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I bought this one for a class in grad school that never got around to reading it, and it's been an object of mystery on my bookshelf ever since. I can't recommend it to everybody, but it's certainly one of the most audacious first novels I've ever read.Harris tells the story of a colonial explorer lost in the depths of the Guyanan jungle with a native crew; the novel's basic plotline will remind some readers of "Heart of Darkness." His writing treads the boundary between prose and poetry; it's dense and difficult, by turns miraculously vibrant and overwhelmingly verbose. On a thematic level, "The Palace of the Peacock" is even bolder. The author is, I think, trying to replace the basic tropes and conventions that the European novel is on based with Amerindian images and storylines, carving out a sort of private mythology and introducing his own ideas about the relationship between time, space and character in the process. In order to accomplish this, he employs a library's worth of literary devices: doubling, the foreknowledge of death, the use of Christian and pre-Christian religious imagery, and the constant blurring of the boundaries between self and other and fantasy and reality. It's a bold vision and one that suggests a whole new perspective on the colonial and post-colonial experience, though I often felt that Harris's meticulous vocabulary and grand ideas were running far ahead of his mechanics. "Palace of the Peacock" is one of the most challenging books I've ever picked up, but, in the end, worth the strenuous reading and re-reading I had to do to get through its hundred-or-so pages. It's deeply flawed but still exciting, a unique, and uniquely difficult, reading experience.

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