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This review is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

TRISTES TROPIQUES ENTOMOLOGIQUES Nicolas Bouvier, The Scorpion-Fish, translated by Robyn Marsack (Carcanet) £9.95

This is a strange, hybrid book, the mood and tone of which are in part anticipated by the image of the scorpion-fish that Nicolas Bouvier has illustrated on its cover, almost as if to dispel any residual disbelief as to its existence. Nature appears to have been unable to decide whether this creature was best suited to land or sea, but has equipped it with spindly flippers for mobility, and a spine and tail containing a poison designed to kill its prey and repel its enemies. Bouvier's specimen has been removed from its natural habitat and bottled in a cucumber-jar; thus trapped, it is represented as swimming awkwardly in the direction of the narrow, stoppered neck which would doubtless - in the unlikely event of it ever being presented with the opportunity to escape - inhibit the passage of its protuberant limbs. As an emblem of Bouvier's state of mind during a year or so's sojourn (astrologically speaking, from Pisces to Scorpio) on 'the Island' - easily enough identified as Ceylon/Sri Lanka - this is about as telling as it could be. Yet its model in real life makes only two appearances in the book proper. We encounter it initially as the possession and pet plaything of a 'colossal' female grocer (the 'butt of a dozen urchins' tricks' because she is Tamil and Muslim), who intrigues and impresses Bouvier by her resourcefulness, which prompts him to wonder whether she might 'give me her mascot'. Subsequently, indeed on the very ...


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