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This review is taken from PN Review 72, Volume 16 Number 4, March - April 1990.

OUT OF THE BOTTLE? The Arabian Nights in English Literature, edited by Peter L. Caracciolo (Macmillan) £37.50

This is, surprisingly, the first work to deal at length with the influence of the Arabian Nights on English literature. It comes a little too much perhaps in the guise of literary criticism, and, given the increasingly lumpish nature of that science, may not get the attention it deserves. There is much to entertain here. The way in which Caracciolo shapes his acknowledgements to one of the Arabian tales is a fair indication of the spirit in which this project was conceived.

Just when the peoples of the Arabian Nights seemed transformed to shoals of iridescent but elusive fish that could not be cooked and brought to the table, I too was saved from petrification, and the threatening genie who had escaped from the bottle was brought under control.

Just how successfully that genie has been kept inside is borne out in the lengthy introduction and the essays by various hands which follow. It is true, there are moments when I feel the temptation has not been resisted to scrutinise texts too closely in search of Arabic influences. I am not moved, for example, by the suggestion that Graham Greene's narrative while 'commonly wearing an uncomplicated look...seem to derive from the linear aspects of the Nights rather than from their more involved patterns'. The story is common to all cultures, and not even Modernism has weaned people away from the desire to be told one. I would suggest that the 'linear ...

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