Barry Unsworth | Critical Review by Michael Malone

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Barry Unsworth.
This section contains 395 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Michael Malone

Critical Review by Michael Malone

SOURCE: "Other Times and Places," in New York Times Book Review, January 1, 1981, p. 10.

In the following review, Malone provides an appreciative assessment of Unsworth's main character in The Idol Hunter.

In 1908 on an irrelevant Greek island of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, the Levantine spy Basil Pascali writes his 216th irrelevant report to Constantinople, this time to the Sultan himself. Monthly, for 20 changeless years, the fat shabby informer has received for his services the same sum but never the slightest response to these millions of words poured into an Imperial void. In the silence he has written his life away and in so doing has fashioned it into the marvelous lapidary creation that constitutes British novelist Barry Unsworth's The Idol Hunter. Esthetic, solipsistic, constrained to see himself from the viewpoint of others as an obsequious, cowardly buffoon wretchedly cavorting for cadged meals, Our Man in Asia Minor is a spy Graham Greene could appreciate. George Smiley would employ and Peter Ustinov should play. He is a wifeless, homeless, drugged Ulysses abandoned to live by trickery on a foreign island.

By 1908 Turkish dominions have contracted to a moribund core of corruption and clogged bureaucracy, which exists only by the inertia that pays Pascali's salary and that keeps immobile the old emigres who sit hearing Offenbach and reading frayed Figaros in the pink rattan chairs of the island's Hotel Metropole while rebels collect in the hills. In fact, the Young Turks soon will depose the Sultan, Balkan wars will remap Europe, a World War will re-create the world. Poised at this abyss, Pascali yearns both for the past's "fixity of perfect balance" and for the "gesture that shatters the glass." The world awaits new idols.

Waiting too, this scrounger and clown who studies Parmenides and quotes Mallarme, who squires paying American widows and saves up for fortnightly visits to a boy prostitute, this observer of nuance and gesture who has always falsified his reports "for the sake of color and variety," this artist has created an island. Its opaline blue gashed with white, its jumble of jasmine and dark tobacco, of Roman harbors, Moslem mosques and Crusaders' castles, its Greeks, Turks, Jews and Armenians, the woman painter he desires, the English adventurer with whom he attempts a deadly con game—all are caught like exotic fish in the net of Pascali's unanswered words.

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This section contains 395 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Michael Malone
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