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From the acclaimed author of The Radiant Way, comes "a wonderful piece of sustained invention" (San Francisco Chronicle). When a psychiatrist receives a package containing what appears to be human bones, she believes it's a message from an old friend in trouble.
Posted March 23, 2003
'Had it been that anxious, conscientious young Khmer, who had risked perhaps his life to send across the lines the package that had brought her to this room, these orchids?' Thus a narrator from the novel, whose task is shared with Harriet Osborne, summarizes the essential plot structure of this fantastic third novel in a trilogy. How can we not be pleased that Mr. Stephen Cox, writer, has sent his friend, Liz Headleand (nice to see you again, Liz!) a crazy surprise package full of postcards and messages. She feels obliged to interpret them. Her efforts at coming to grips with the text Stephen has sent her takes up much of the novel's plot. But, Stephen is Man with his Problem. He goes off on a quest to Thailand and Vietnam. Is he seeking inspiration for his next play? What is the meaning of life? The 'Gates of Ivory,' ironically, is Stephen's tale. Drabble is presenting man's fate. Ms. Drabble entertains us further with the other two friends, Alix Bowen and Esther Breuer. Esther gets married and Alix continues as a good social worker. The three women are as charming as ever. Thematically, Good Time and Bad Time coexist. Man has the capacity to do good and evil. Who represents good? Liz, Alix, and Esther who carry on their daily lives in a responsible, sane fashion day-to-day, unlike Stephen who traverses into too much unknown territory. The epitaph at the start of the novel presages the hope that will conclude the novel in the form of Liz's party. Konstantin Vassilou, Stephen's good friend from Vietnam, is alive and well and is invited. Konstantin also represents Good. Stephen is captured by the Bad Time forces--i.e. evil and darkness--and dies of malaria. Ms. Drabble engages us with the suspense and terror of Stephen's life in Thailand and Vietnam as well as with Liz's trip to the East to find out what happended to her friend. It is a symbolic effort to show her concern to resolve the mystery of Stephen's trouble. Kampuchea is Bad Time, men doing evil. The Vietnam war killed many innocent people. Paul Whitmore, Alix's murderer, is Bad Time. Alix is Good Time, for she is dedicated to her social work. She is a good friend of Liz and Esther. 'It is a comfortable, Good Time room,' Drabble says of Liz Headleand's drawing room in St. John Wood. Good must investigate. Liz, Konstantin, Alix, and Esther will endure in truth, light, and goodness is the message of hope that Ms. Drabble concludes this enthralling novel with--and we're all invited to the 'Good-Time Party.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.