Thursday, 26 April 2001

Gene Wolfe: Peace (1975)

Edition: New English Library, 1989 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 805

This novel must rank as one of the most atmospheric fantasies ever written. It is the story of a life in the American Midwest in the early years of the twentieth century, which is a strange setting for such a novel; the narrator's life is not in itself fantastic - it is purely the way in which the story is told which places it in the genre.

For the narrator is a ghost. He is revisiting his life as part of a visit to a doctor, when given an odd treatment which is a sort of combination of the Rorschach test with fortune telling by the use of the Tarot; each episode in the novel is set off with the turn of a card. The episodes are not chronological and the storytelling is very digressive, and they are not entirely complete in themselves. It is quite difficult at the beginning to follow what is going on.

One thing the novel is remarkable for is the use of stories within the story. These are basically ghost stories, and are both skilfully told and carefully used to enhance the otherworldly atmosphere.

Peace is a wonderfully subtle and enjoyable novel, and is completely different - though equally excellent - from most of the Wolfe I have previously read - The Book of the New Sun and The Book of the Long Sun.

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