________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2000

cover Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain.

Jeffrey Moore.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 1999.
395 pp., pbk., $21.95.
ISBN 1-895449-92-8.

Grades 12 and up / Ages 17 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4


"I want you to rip that page out of the book," said Gerard. "Go ahead, lad, tear it right out, don't be afraid."

I did so, but not cleanly; the fragile page ripped in a jagged slant. I needed two hands to make amends.

"Now fold it up and put it in your breast pocket. Good. You must never lose that magic leaf, Jeremy, it's your anting-anting, your flying carpet-- it will take you wherever you want to go. But be patient because it will choose the time, and that time may not be for months, years. Now go. And don't mention this to anyone, ever." (p. 13)

Years after Jeremy Davenant rips a page from a book in his "Uncle" Gerard's library, he seeks meaning and connection amongst four encyclopedia entries on that ripped page. All beginning with "Sha -": the story of the Zulu warrior-king, Shaka; the Shakantula, an Indian love poem; Shakhtyorsk, a coal-mining town in Ukraine; and of course, Shakespeare, William, and his sonnets. A lecturer (with forged credentials) and Ph. D. candidate ("Finishing up, aiming for the final sprint") at a Montreal university, Jeremy is negotiating the rental of an apartment when he catches sight of a tall, dark-haired woman. Milena, (the "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets?) who certainly harbors more than her share of dark secrets and is the perfect object of Jeremy's obsessive pursuit. In the course of this pursuit, readers learn more about Jeremy's bizarre quasi-uncle, Gerard, are treated to hilarious (and withering satire) of Jeremy's academic colleagues in the Department of Comparative Art, and ultimately, learn the secret of "The Page" which has been so important in Jeremy's life.

First novels often suffer from an author's attempting too much. Moore often can't resist the impulse to wring yet another pun or nuance from a phrase or an expression. Both the dialogue and descriptions can be incredibly witty, but judicious editing would have helped. Still, Prisoner in a Red Rose Chain is a promising beginning and has won an award for first novels. However, it's a book that would have very limited readership, even at the upper high school level. Many of the literary allusions are fairly complex and presume a highly experienced reader. Finally, as in real life, the details of many characters' lives are sordid, and language and sexual content make this inadvisable for most high school libraries.

Recommended with Reservations.

Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364