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This review is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

HEAD ON A PLATTER C.K. Stead, The Death of the Body (Collins) £9.95

Early in The Death of the Body the narrator comments: 'Nothing is so puzzling as a death. The detective wants to solve the crime, if it's a crime. The philosopher wants to penetrate the mystery of life and death', and then continues: 'There's a problem in telling a story.' Here is C.K. Stead's prospectus for his grey comedy of a novel. Whether we find the result witty and inventive, or contrived and elliptical, bears some relation, I would imagine, to whether or not we relish a multiple dose of role-playing: detective, philosopher, movie director, and taking a mechanic's-eye tour of the novel's machinery - and at the end of it all, the crime is unsolved, and the philosophical teases, unsolvable. The protagonist is Harry Butler, a New Zealand philosopher who, whilst engaged with the mind-body problem, finds his house used by Auckland's Drug Squad to observe the comings-and-goings next door. Thus, police and philosophical enquiries run parallel. But it is the women in Harry's private life who give depth to the plot, and they are much more vividly realized than the males, particularly Claire, Harry's second wife, who has embraced Sufism. Now 'Sophia' - Stead uses names to underline his points - she constantly chants 'I am not this body', and looks at things from 'the perspective of eternity'. As a sub-plot, Harry is involved with a student, Louise, who sees things initially from the perspective of a 'fuck on the floor': this affair, and a protest by a ...


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