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This review is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

Robert Sproat, Chinese Whispers (Faber) £10.95
The element of shock or surprise in a work will vary with the re-reading, and any play or novel worth its salt will benefit from being tackled again. 'Kill Claudio' is as amazing and understandable a request however many times Much Ado is performed. Stendhal's characteristic note of farce (Julien Sorel finds it difficult to persuade the garrulous armourer that he wants to buy a pair of pistols) by no means lessens the astonishment felt by the reader when his second shot fells Mme de Rênal. The element of surprise can be wholly embedded in the believable psychology of the people involved - Beatrice and Julien are both headstrong, impetuous. What they suddenly say or do springs naturally from what they are, from what they have been proved to be.

If the shock is, as it were, there for its own sake - if the unexpected twist occurs because the sole desire of the writer is to disconcert-it may be that the re-appraisal becomes a tamer, even a pointless matter. This is not at all to say that the work which sets out merely to jolt or appal is necessarily a minor one. Ionesco's Macbett may not be as remarkable an experience when we see it for the second time, but the way again and again it stamps on our expectations makes our first encounter with it a shattering event.

Chinese Whispers may be in the second category. The stinging discoveries the reader is impelled to make ...


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