Rupert is a delusional psycho, exactly the type of person populating our post-everything world. And yet...
Literature is filled with the hero who exists only to fulfill his heroic tasks. To slay the dragon and rescue the maiden, even if, as in Orlando Furioso, the maiden isn't necessarily wild about the whole thing. What counts, what is paramount, is the purity of thought, the shining example of chivalry, of adventure, of quest. Homer's Ulysses to that of Joyce, to well, Rupert.
Throughout much of the book the reader colludes with the author in seeing Rupert's journey or quest, portrayed in three hearings to a jury, as harmless and somewhat prosaic. More Quixote than King Arthur, we readers have a long history of tolerating and cheering on the endless heroes more blinded by windmills than sane adventures. It is harmless literature, it is part of a noble tradition, and why should all our heroes of today be those boring super heroes of Marvel Comics? Hurray for the pure hearted buffoon off to save his heroine.
The language of the first two hearings, and particularly the first, are wonderfully calibrated to this heroic, or at least mock-heroic style. The maiden calls Rupert the Irresistible Virgin-Slayer. But Rupert is actually unable to live outside his heroic fantasies. It is his maiden who must take control, demanding..."And now action. Enough beating about the bush. Is something going to come of this, brave knight?" But unfortunately, no. While his soul pretends to chivalry, his lust is limited to porno and peepshows. With his damsel, he is impotent.
More of the heroic/sleaze juxtaposition in the first hearing. There is a chapter describing the film version of romantic love followed by duecento love lyrics, juxtaposed to the utterly anti-heroic: "she wasn't like Cynthia, who still lived at home, kissed like a vacuum pump, and gave me a blow j..[Amazon required change] in the alleyway."
The second hearing sees Rubert as a literary figure quoting several poets, most frequently T.S. Eliot. He goes on a multi-page riff on literary insults followed by geometric squares. And then we come to his Beatrice...Mira. There are ramblings about he and Mira being both actors and viewers, playing out roles known and unknown, living a fools paradise until Mira told him what he probably already knew, she had found someone else. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Rupert didn't probably know it already. Worse still, Rupert the Hopelessly Happy didn't have a clue." It is at this point that Rupert veers off in his quest from the chivalrous and romantic to the obsessed and depraved. But surely taken as a whole it is hard to see the loony romanticism of the early chapters as anything but the deranged fantasies of a man who simply does not understand the difference between real and imagined. Who can only live by re-imagining the real into a fantasy. And I fear that this is true of all those thousands of heroic figures of olden days. Is the only difference between Dante and Rupert that Mira had the ability to tell her man to get lost, and Beatrice didn't?
A huge cheer for this translation by Michelle Hutchinson. The language is nimble, veering from the heroic to the sleaze, from the tower to the street, and the language itself mirrors these changes. The moods are well represented in the language, which always feels natural and alive. That is a linguistically challenging book to translate, and the test has been well met by Ms. Hutchinson.