The theme of the title story is sort of retold in a different framework in a second one. Neither to me are satisfying. With the Palazzo story I get the feeling that it SHOULD HAVE BEEN a novel but that there really was only a limited story to tell. Sex without conversation gets dull even for an author. The "readalike" seemed to be another way to try and draw out the same story. Neither worked for me.
The stories that are grouped together under the "Judas" theme posed an even more difficult issue for me. They seemed like doodles. By that I mean - Theroux wanted the characters in them to do something but couldn't settle on one thing. So he tried in different ways, and lacking the ability to develop them (they really aren't interesting people) gave us all the attempts in this short story collection. To me they were barebones, or sketches if you will, of an idea.
Recently I saw a drawing show of Parmagianino's work at the Frick Museum in NYC. There were many sheets of what my friend calls "doodles" which is how he defines sketches and studies for "real" drawings or paintings. I asked myself why I loved looking at the art studies but resented reading what I thought were literary studies. I think the reason is that an artist's thought process is interesting for comparison to what he finally achieves. A writer's studies are not interesting in the same way unless there is a final definitive version.
Also, the artist - Parmagianino for example - never expected his studies (doodles) to be seen. In contrast, Theroux has assembled his and published them as a final product.
This is not satisfying to me. But I'm sure I am in the minority. Moral: I should stick to novels.
The title novella takes place in Taomina, Sicily in 1962. The protagonist/narrator is Gilford Mariner, a twenty-one year old painter who has traveled to Taomina hoping to find something of inspiration. What he finds is the Palazzo d'Oro (now a hotel) and its strange inhabitants, a young Iraqi doctor named Haroun and an older, sophisticated woman simply called "the Graefin" (which is "Countess" is German). Mariner enters into a strange relationship with the Graefin, a relationship from which he will only be released once he learns the Graefin's "secret." I don't want to give away anything of the plot, so let's just say that the Graefin's secret was pretty transparent, yet it took Mariner most of the novella to discover just what it was. Oh, well, he was only twenty-one...I can, and will, make an allowance for that.
The novella, "The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro" is told in a frame when Mariner has reached his sixtieth birthday and has "returned to the scene of the crime." Although he terms it his "only story," it is probably just the one that is the most bizarre. Though it could be termed a story of sexual awakening, I think "a sexual nightmare" describes it far more aptly. The characters were impossible to like or empathize with, nevertheless, I liked it.Read more ›