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The Stranger at the Palazzo D'Oro: And Other Stories [Paperback]

Paul Theroux
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 15.23 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Book Description

Oct. 5 2004
"This is my only story. Now that I am sixty I can tell it." He, the narrator, was a twenty-one-year-old art student traveling the world. She was a countess -- apparently cold, haughty, and inaccessible -- traveling with Haroun, her ambiguous companion. When the young man makes their acquaintance at a hotel in Sicily, he finds himself filled with unexpected lust and playing a part in something he doesn't quite understand. Filled with Theroux's typically effortless but devastating descriptions of people and places, The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro is a brilliant portrayal of aging and decay, a shocking tale of sensuality in a golden age. The thrill and risk of pursuit and desire mark the accompanying stories of the sexual awakening and rites of passage of a Boston boyhood, the ruin of a writer in Africa, and the bewitchment of a retiree in Hawaii. This is Paul Theroux at his most allusive and wise, writing with a deep understanding of the frailties of men and boys.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Theroux's characteristic haze of exoticism hangs over this uneven collection of two novellas and two stories, ushered in by the gothic title novella, which tells a tale of sexual perversity in Taormina, Sicily, in 1962. Gilford Mariner, a young American artist, is traveling around Italy imagining himself as a hero in an Antonioni movie. But when he encounters a rich German countess ("the Grafin") and her consort, Haroun, a Chaldean doctor, the movie turns into a Visconti: baroque, kinky and slightly kitschy. Haroun pays for Mariner to become the Gr„fin's lover, an alternately arousing and demeaning chore from which Mariner is only released when Haroun reveals the countess's "secret." In the four parts of "A Judas Memoir," Andy, the narrator, is a preteen Catholic in Medford, Mass., in an era when sexual repression meant something: the 1940s. Evelyn Frisch is a bold nymph who shows Andy the wonders of female urination in his back yard before his parents put a stop to it. We then jump to the affair between a horny schoolmate's mother and a milkman, and the perplexing discovery, on the part of Andy and his buddies, that the local priest, Father Staley, is a pedophile. In "An African Story," a Afrikaner farmer/writer is disastrously fixated on a one-armed black woman. Finally, in "Disheveled Nymphs," a retired lawyer becomes so infatuated with the mother and daughter team who clean his house in Hawaii that he stalks them on their vacation to Vegas. Theroux's title story is bigger on portentousness ("This is my only story," it begins) than revelation. By contrast, the quieter moments in other stories (Evelyn Frisch's giggling micturations, the Hawaiian maids' casual putdowns) are real gems of observation.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

Supremely moving. A master class in detail and sensuous evocation.The Financial Times of LondonYet another stimulating volume in [Theroux's] impressive canon.The San Francisco ChronicleErotic intrigue is at the heart of these stories, each of which renders familiar territory wonderfully strange.VogueFor armchair adventuring, STRANGER AT THE PALAZZO D'ORO is golden.Boston Heraldan accomplished book by an accomplished writer (B+) Denver Rocky Mountain NewsTherou'x prose is shot through with gentle melancholy, evoking the complexities of matters of the heart with subtlety and grace. (3.5 out of 4 stars) People MagazineTheroux has rarely been in better form.The Los Angeles Timesfuther proof that Theroux, the evocative prose stylist, remains ever worth reading.The Washington PostCompelling reading.Charlotte ObserverTheroux has the ability to capture people and places that are achingly beautiful Pittsburg Post GazetteTheroux uses his precise, realistic style like a scalpel...a marvelous yarn.Providence Journala satisfying mix of tales...[Theroux's] stories are engrossing and evoke an air of sensuality.The OregonianOddly beguiling...dramatically rich.Contra Costa Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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This is my only story. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not complete April 13 2004
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed some of the stories and some I didn't. But that's the way it is with collections of short stories. I was not disturbed by any of the stories, although I should have read the Amazon reviews before picking up the book as I was not at all prepared for what was coming. But the stories and the feelings of lust and loss were very intersting. I just didn't feel that any of the characters were developed fully. The first story, The Strangers at the Palazzo D'Oro was the best in my opinion. I always enjoy stories that are told from the perspective of the main character looking back on their life. I just wish there would've been a little more to it. Sex gets old when there's not more dialogue and plot.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Literary Doodles March 8 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I often don't like to read short stories. For me, they are not - in general you understand - as satisfying as a novel. Too hasty and short if they are good, too unfulfilling and short if they are not. This is a slightly different case for me.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Theroux Fans Will Like It, Others, Maybe Not Feb. 25 2004
Format:Hardcover
The title novella in THE STRANGER AT THE PALAZZO D'ORO, as well as the other novella and the two stories that accompany it all concern very out-of-the-ordinary sexual encounters (to say the least). The title novella, however, concerns the pairing of a younger man with an older, far more experiend (and very strange) woman, while the other three concern themselves with older men and younger women. All four, however, cost the men in question dearly...whether it be in the realm of innocence, finances, emotion or respectability.
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.
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