Palace of the Peacock By Wilson Harris

A tale of a doomed crew beating their way up-river through the jungles of Guyana. In this novel, first published in 1960, can be traced the poetic vision, the themes and the designs of Harris's subsequent work, which included The Guyana Quartet. Palace of the Peacock


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Absolutely a challenging, unconventional read for a lot of people. Time and reality are manipulated often and skillfully. Wonderful prose mostly, some overwrought metaphors maybe. I look forward to rereading Palace sooner than I thought. English Discussed this book here: English Two parts peyote, one part novel. English More like, 3.75... I struggled in the first half or so, but the ending was spectacular. More thoughts to come... English The spiritual heart of darkness English

One hardly can find an author more enigmatic than Wilson Harris… Every book of his is a cryptic spiritual journey…

We stood on the frontiers of the known world, and on the selfsame threshold of the unknown.

To die, to sleep, to dream… All the characters of the novel are dead, and they sleep, and they are dreaming… And even if they wake up they just wake up into another dream:
A dog rose and stood over me. A horse it was in the uncertain grey light, half-wolf, half-donkey, monstrous, disconsolate; neighing and barking in one breath, its terrible half-hooves raised over me to trample its premature rider. I grew conscious of its closeness as a shadow and as death. I made a frightful gesture to mount, and it shrank a little into half-woman, half-log greying into the dawn. Its teeth shone like a misty rag, and I raised my hand to cajole and stroke its ageing, soulful face. I sat bolt upright in my hammock, shouting aloud that the devil himself must fondle and mount this muse of hell and this hag, sinking back instantly, a dead man in his bed come to an involuntary climax. The grey wet dream of dawn had restored to me Mariella’s terrible stripes and anguish of soul. The vaguest fire and warmth came like a bullet, flooding me, over aeons of time it seemed, with penitence and sorrow.

The crew of characters is travelling upriver – up some turbulent tropical Styx – to the uncertain and vague destination… And even if some of them die again they just die into another sleep.
And on the seventh day of creation they arrive…
It was the seventh day from Mariella. And the creation of the windows of the universe was finished.

We all – dead or alive – are just the infinitesimal fragments of the cosmic anima. English Through sinister jungles and lurid daymares, we float up the river into a landscape forsaken by the living. Death is on one bank and Life on the other, but in the churning eddies that spin our souls skyward we know not which is which and paddle onward blindly. Is this the river Styx? Are we careening towards an inner Hell? Is this the fabled Heart of Darkness?

We are in the remote backwaters of colonial Guyana, where maps are cracks on withered faces and there reigns a cannibal blind fear in oneself (p. 52). The crew on this surreal vessel straddles the line between death and survival, dying a thousand deaths yet struggling on.
their living names matched the names of a famous dead crew that had sunk in the rapids and been drowned to a man, leaving their names inscribed on Sorrow Hill which stood at the foot of the falls. But this in no way interfered with their lifelike appearance and spirit and energy (p.26).
At scarcely 100 pages, this mindfuck novella should be read in one submersive sitting, instead of stretched into a string of bus rides and morning coffees. Perhaps it all comes together in a second reading. Maybe my ignorance of Guyanese culture is at fault. The book blurb pegs it as a kaleidoscopic sequence of brilliant allusive fragments, and luminous mirages from Guyanese history, tradition, and myths of genealogy and discovery. Instead I sleepwalked into an inverse universe where the lights dazzled me and the script was beautiful but its meaning indecipherable. Partway through I slipped through to the other side of a haze of morphine and watched the shadows of power and fear and human fragility dance on the wall in front of me. Yes, I woke up shaking in a hospital bed, a highly controlled environment populated by ticking and beeping, the polar opposite of those uncharted nether regions. Yet the same uncertainty hangs in the air and disorientation is the only orientation. If I was upriver in Guyana I'd probably be dead by now. I don't know where I am but I'd recommend this place all the same.
English Did I read this book, or did this book read me? I'm not trying to be snide, here, or precious, or cruel. I am in love with this book. I would like to be its girlfriend. English Vision and idea mingled into a sensitive carnival that turned the crew into a fearful herd where he clung with his eye of compassion to his precarious and dizzy vertical hold and perched on the stream of the cliff. The light of space changed, impinging upon his eyeball and lid numerous grains of sounds and motion that were the suns and moons of all space and time. The fowls of the air danced and wheeled on invisible lines that stretched taut between the ages of light and snapped every now and then into lightning executions of dreaming men when each instant ghost repaired the wires again in the form of an inquisitive hanging eye and bird.

Do you like that? How you get along with this book will depend a lot on how you feel about this style of writing. Personally, I find it somewhat pleasant from a purely aesthetic point of view, but very difficult to follow the sense of it. I found it quite hard to figure out what was happening in this book, and especially to distinguish actual from allegorical descriptions.

A man -- I think never named, he's simply I -- comes to Guyana to see his tougher older brother, Donne whom he has not seen since youth. He has had in the past and has still dreams of Donne being shot dead. He meets Donne's servant/mistress/abuse victim Mariella, with whom he has a sexual encounter. She kills Donne and runs away. Donne and his brother gather a party to go after her-- What? You thought Donne had been killed? Yeah, it says that but clearly he is alive, he doesn't seem hurt at all. In that case why are they pursuing Mariella? Did she shoot and miss? I don't know. -- up the river by boat, to a Mission. Everyone is gone, an old woman says because of seasonal flooding but Donne thinks they fled because they heard he was coming and were afraid of him. Abducting the old woman , they continue their pursuit.

That's about it, in terms of action that I could parse. They boat for 7 (I think) days. Several of the men die, due to accidents or getting stabbed by one another for unclear reasons. They have conversations about their past, crimes and suffering and illegitimate children, some of which are true and some aren't. Eventually the remainder arrive at a cliff? Or at the Palace of the Peacock? Is it a real palace? I don't know. Are there peacocks in Guyana? What is the significance of the peacock? I don't know.

Oh, also for a long time in the middle our narrator I ceases to be mentioned and is replaced by omniscient narration, or by we but a we who knows a lot about what one another are thinking or not exactly thinking but experiencing in their minds. Which is along the lines of the first passage I quote only with more emotions and sex.

Lastly, people who complain that I use too many commas should read this and see how they like really few commas.

I found this interesting to try once but probably won't pick up this author again.
English I do wonder why Wilson Harris is not better known; he has been writing for over 50 years and was knighted in the 2010 honours list (that didn’t make the popular news I seem to recall). He was originally a surveyor in Guyana and his early work is very much set in the Guyanese/South American jungle. There are strong links to Hegel and Heidegger. The thesis, antithesis, synthesis model is present throughout the novel and in the way the plot is played out. Harris also rejects conventional plot, settings and particularly realism which he equates with colonialism.

In Palace of the Peacock Donne and his crew journey by boat into the interior and the rain forest, in a voyage which parallels the creation story and takes place over seven days. Donne embodies creation and destruction and using the name of the metaphysical poet was deliberate according to Harris. There are strong links with the search for El Dorado and also with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but whilst Conrad’s Marlow embodies alienation and breakdown; Harris’s characters progress to restoration and repossession via death and the destructive cycle. I must admit I haven’t as yet thought through the contrast between Conrad’s Marlow (Christopher) and Harris’s Donne (John). The inheritance of colonialism and slavery are transformed with an alternative renewal which has everything to do with the spirit of the land and the music at the end of the book that comes with the second death of the crew. Don’t expect an easy read, but the whole story flows linguistically like the river it describes with hidden rapids and magnificent waterfalls. Harris himself says the images are convertible and speaks about the mixed metaphysic of the crew. The images are complex but with thought and careful reading the story is a magical one. English