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The US hardcover edition...
A tad less Rabelaisian
than Bloomsbury's cover,
but striking nonetheless
Angelica's Grotto is a pornographic website into which seventy-two-year-old art historian Harold Klein wanders one evening. Klein, a walking catalogue of infirmities, known to medical consultants as 'he who declines to hop the twig,' may not be up to much physically but there's a lot of sex going on in his head. 'You're a tiger from the neck up, Professor,' says Melissa, the brains behind the website, when at last Klein faces the object of his desire.
Harold first visits Angelica's Grotto after losing his 'inner voice', that censoring mechanism that keeps us from blurting out the first thing that pops into our heads and finding ourselves in Casualty as a result of it.
Harold consults a therapist about this new lack of mental privacy and also has one-to-one onscreen dialogue in the Grotto. 'If I had an inner voice I wouldn't be telling you all this,' he explains to the as-yet-unmet Melissa. But when the flesh-and-blood Melissa and her large and well-hung colleague Leslie enter his life he finds it's good to keep the angina medicine at the ready.
Harold Klein's odyssey takes him not only through erogenous zones but into various corners of the London art world, down the underground and up the buses. Russell Hoban has never been funnier, trueror more eloquent.
Photo by Mr. Hoban's sister Tana
from the inside back cover
"An intensely conceived coda to the verities of desire and fulfillment not to mention trust, honesty and pornography and Klein is a sharp, funny and intelligent protagonist whom readers will find it hard not to like."
"An innately intelligent, highly original pondering of some of today's newly pressing problems of communication and interiority in a world committed to surfing, where 'intimacy' means one-on-one-on-line."
Alan Stewart, Amazon UK
"When the noise of the psychobabble, art criticism and soft
and hard porn that Hoban has fun with in this novel has subsided, the
spectacle of Klein and his dialogue with death remains. Hoban's ability to
evoke a simultaneous yearning for life and the encroachment of a future
without form, language or sight is quite remarkable, whispering ceaselessly
at the edges of the novel while the reader is distracted with jokes and
baubles. To render the imminent end of consciousness and of subjectivity
amongst a series of narrative devices is an extraordinary act of creativity,
and confirms Hoban as an avatar of the strangeness of reality."
Alex Clark, The Guardian
"Angelica's Grotto is sharp, funny, up-to-the minute, and raises
fascinating questions about male sexuality, the link between art and
pornography and the nature of the unconscious. The portrait of Klein is
beautifully observed...when he asserts that 'Being an old fool is the most fun I've had in a long time,' the reader can only concur."
Michael Arditti, The Times
As a little appetizer, here's Chapter 3 from Angelica's Grotto...posted with the kind permission of Mr. Hoban and Bloomsbury Publishing.
THE MEISSEN GIRL, THE PAXOS STONE
When Klein got home he poured himself a Glenfiddich, sat down at his desk, and looked across it to the mantelpiece and the Meissen figure of a girl about to bowl a golden ball. Leaning forward with her knees bent and her right arm extended she stood thirteen and a half inches high on a round gilt-bordered base one and three-quarter inches high. Her feet were bare and she wore a classical pale-green gown that was tied with a pink ribbon below the breasts and left her right breast and shoulder bare. She was made in 1890 and the sculptor, Schott, had signed the base.
Every part of her was beautiful and shapely: her body and her limbs, her hands and feet, each individual finger and toe. Her long blonde hair framed the exquisite oval of her face. Full of sweetness, her face was, her rose-petal mouth all virginal, her eyes entranced and dreamy.
Her face was the face of the beloved who takes no notice, the beloved who passes by, chatting with her friends, with never a glance, never a thought for the one whose heart lies at her feet. Had Schott intended that face or was it that the very clay under his hands had refused him the response he craved?
Klein had bought that figure in Hannelore's home town, Celle in Lower Saxony. 'She looks like you,' he said to her.
'No, she doesn't,' said Hannelore. 'I was never that young, never that pretty.'
'Yes, you were, and the youth and prettiness are still there.'
'I wish,' said Klein twenty years later as the girl, intent on her bowling, passed him by with never a glance.
The objects in his workroom, apart from their relationship with him, had relationships with one another: some harmless, some not. From a long-ago trip to Paxos with Hannelore, Klein, an inveterate collector of beach pebbles, had brought home one that he thought big enough to be called a stone. It appeared to be some kind of conglomerate, a pale warm grey, smoothly rounded, ovoid, weighed eighteen ounces, and felt good in the hand. On it Klein had written in black ink, in Greek letters, KINESIS/ANAPAUSIS: MOTION/REST.
Holding this stone in his hand, he saw the beach and the large mystical rocks shaped by the sea, heard the lapping of the tide and saw, magnified by the clear water, a polychaete worm, black and many-legged, like a warning to the curious. He saw the road to the villa and the olive trees on either side that flashed silver in the warm wind. There was a particular olive tree, ancient and wrinkled and still bearing fruit: in its hollow trunk was an opening that looked as if a naked goddess, Persephone perhaps, had emerged from it into the green-lit grove. Klein tried to remember the moment of balance when he had written those words on the stone, caught only the scent of Hannelore's sun-warm hair.
Sated with ANAPAUSIS, the Paxos stone longed for KINESIS. Klein had once placed it on the mantelpiece near the Meissen girl, then quickly removed it before it could jump up and smash her to bits. From then on he kept it on his desk, handling it as he would a dangerous pet.
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