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Paradoxine - The Adventures of James Vagabond by Roberto Quaglia

01/08/2011. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Paradoxine – The Adventures of James Vagabond in the USA - or Buy Paradoxine – The Adventures of James Vagabond in the UK

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pub: Immanion Press, 2009. 330 pages enlarged paperback. Price: GBP12.99 (UK), $21.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-904853-67-1.

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Say the word surreal to most people and the first thing they will think of is art, especially the works of such proponents as Dali and Magritte. Trying to explain what makes something surreal is a little more difficult. As with the boundaries between literary genres, those of the art world blur, interlock and intertwine. Perhaps the best way of looking at it is to regard surreal as an unexpected juxtaposition of familiar objects, such as the crustacean and the telephone in Dali’s lobster phone or Magritte’s image of the steam train exiting the fireplace. Surreal doesn’t confine itself to painting or sculpture. Dali experimented with short surreal films in the 1920s. Literature, too, has its fair share of surrealists, such as William Burroughs. Roberto Quaglia is also a surrealist.

In many ways, this is a remarkable book. Originally written in Italian, it has been translated into English by Peter de Ville and the translated text revised by Ian Watson. For those who are unaware, the best examples are translated by someone whose first language is the destination language and then it is revised by professional writer. If the original text has flaws it is difficult to make it work. Without the credits, most people would not have guessed that ‘Paradoxine’ (Italian title: Pane burro e paradissina) was not originally penned in English. It reads so fluently.

Those of you old enough to remember Michael Morcock’s ‘Adventures Of Jerry Cornelius’ will immediately feel at home within these pages. James Vagabond is a futuristic all-conquering hero, an over-the-top pastiche of that other James, the one created by Ian Fleming. Vagabond is a Very-Secret agent. He has already saved the world a number of times.

In a world that is already of a surreal nature, his adventures quickly descend into the kind of chaos most people would only experience in dreams. People do not have congress with other humans any more, so Vagabond’s libido is satisfied by three gynoids. His sleep is disturbed by a call of duty. He has to find the Guilty Person. No clues as to who it might be or what the crime is. He elicits the help of Gordon Wells, a successful somnambulist writer – one who writes novels in a trance state. To try to explain the events would be like trying to explain a surrealist painting to someone who hasn’t seen it.

This volume is actually two stories or two alternative approaches to the same story – reader, you decide which - which have similar starting points. In the second, he wakes up to find that his gynoids are not working. In fact, his automatic house has broken (it is a Microsoft product). His only recourse is to go into an orphanage. The problem with an orphanage is that you can only leave when you are adopted. No-one is likely to adopt Vagabond or his friend, Gordon Wells.

As with many surreal concepts this book will either be dismissed as silly and confusing or be regarded as witty, providing hours of entertainment trying to decide what part of society the author was taking a dig at. For those who enjoy the absurd, this is well worth considering.

I still don’t know what the ant-eater represents.

Pauline Morgan

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