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This review is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

FIVE MORE FOR THE SOKO Michael Westlake, 51 Soko (Polygon) £8.95 pb

1. Concerning 51, the one and the many. The unity is a sequence of letters from four Japanese correspondents to a heterogeneous collection of non-respondents in the UK. The addressees number the living and the dead (from Peter Palumbo and the editor of The Sun, to Wyndham Lewis and Winston Churchill), characters in literature (from Mrs Ramsey to Winston Smith) and institutions of the day like Saatchi & Saatchi, Di & Fergie, Hell's Angels and the Conservative Party. Westlake's work is closing in: his earlier novels would take Caligari's cabinet, but now it's the Tory Cabinet. The politics, culture, and economic styles of Japan and the UK are paralleled and parodied. Post '45 history, global prophecy and cultural obsessions are the stuff of the tales that emerge from each letter. Let us agree with Westlake san to call it a novel, in the spirit of 269.

2. Concerning 269: the years between 51 Soko and Lettres Persanes. Westlake's letters, like Montesquieu's, work through exotic perspectives to focus on Western culture. The four Japanese letter-writers - chef, entrepreneur, production-line mechanic, and legendary author-Prince Genji turning on his own tales - address a culture they have richly mis-read, or so we choose to think and ethnocentrically insist. Their letters build up a collage of myth and history, traditional codes and instant cultures, stereotypes and sub-versions, re-readings and counter-readings. This is an inversion of Edward Said's Orientalism, though 'their' Occidentalism displays our Orientalism too. To take a cue from Westlake's ...


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