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The Vices

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2011

    A Great Read

    I happen to know of Douglas' scholarly work - he's kind of a big deal among American historians of Holocaust trials - and so I picked this up out of casual interest in seeing what happens when an academic scholar tries his hand at imaginative literature. Usually, what happens isn't very good, since analytical gifts and narrative gifts are quite different and rarely cohabit the same mind. Well, this is the book that confounds the rule of thumb. To be sure, there is a scholarly flavor, or even armature, to this novel, since the protagonist, Oliver Vice, is a noted philosopher and tends to speak and write in a gnomic, even cryptic manner. But the narrator/observer is shrewdly presented as more or less a "regular guy," and his fascination with Vice, and his ambivalence as well, stand in for the reader's own, and allow for easy access to what might become in less able hands an all too esoteric world. Suffice it to say that there is more than a touch of Nabokov to The Vices - the Nabokov especially of Pale Fire, with its scholarly/obsessive narrator and its (typically Nabokovian) themes of doubling and mirroring. (btw, it is also very Nabokovian to have an unnamed narrator, the kind of thing that cleverly undermines a narrator's reliability and provides an interesting shock to the reader when he realizes it, say, 150 pages in.) But The Vices is less daunting than Nabokov can be. In a way, it reads like Pale Fire turned inside-out.. and leavened perhaps with a touch of modern British-style comedy of manners. I might have a few quibbles with this or that aspect of The Vices. But there really isn't anyone I've read lately who is doing what Douglas does in this novel.

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