Voyage of the Short Serpent

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Editorial Reviews

Ligaya Mishan
Can a novel that features cannibalism, amputations, burning at the stake and the devouring of children by wolves be a comedy? Tackling the gruesome and the grotesque with gleeful abandon, “The Voyage of the Short Serpent” is an eccentric, slightly maddened and often brutally funny tale…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A first-time novelist at 76, du Boucheron caused a literary sensation in France with this tale of a bishop's attempted reclamation of a medieval Scandinavian colony in Iceland. As the novel opens, Einar Sokkason, cardinal of Nidaros, learns that the Christian colony of New Thule has turned pagan. He dispatches Inquisitor Ordinary Bishop Insulomontanus to exorcise the colony with the aid of "the stake, the wheel, the head vise, drawing and quartering, the slow hanging, and suspension from the feet or carnal parts." The bishop sets off peaceably in the company of the captain and crew of the Short Serpent, but as the Northern Sea freezes over, frostbite necessitates a few impromptu amputations. This turns out to be a prelude for what will come as the Serpentfinally wends its way up the coast of the fjord, and the bishop is greeted by the curious colony of cannibals. Despite a competent translation, the cardinal and bishop's grave dictums are stilted, and the blood and gore titillate less than they bore. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Now translated into English, this prize-winning French novel is a darkly mesmerizing tale set in Iceland six centuries ago in a forgotten colony called New Thule. A frostbitten version of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, du Boucheron's book centers on a bishop's evangelical mission to renew the faith of the original Christian colonizers whom he fears have adopted the ways of the native pagan culture. After an arduous journey, the bishop finds his fears confirmed when the Norsemen become subordinates to their own slaves, the publicans, who make a habit of eating human flesh, copulate with members of their immediate family, and substitute pagan rituals for prayer. Determined to reinstate Christian ways of life, the bishop and his crew impose harsh penalties, including gauging out the eyes of children, for those guilty of simulating strangulation, corpse eating, or other pagan practices. But in order to survive such brutal and barren climes, the bishop and his crew find they must also stave off hunger with the flesh of frozen corpses. The graphic descriptions of cannibalism and amputations of gangrenous members can be hard to stomach, but the urgency of survival that pulsates through this novel promises to keep readers riveted all the way to the bitter, cold end. Recommended for large fiction collections.
—Emily Benson

Kirkus Reviews
A spare, cunningly ironic novel set in the wilds of medieval Iceland. While Iceland has been nominally Christianized, hibernal adversity and distance from the mainland have conspired to turn the native population toward a more primitive, primeval (read "debauched, pagan") existence. The novel begins with an archbishop's official directive to Bishop Insulomontanus in which he lays out what the bishop must do: to "investigate the Christian folk . . . and to offer them the comfort of the Word, while not neglecting to castigate sin, if need be, by sword or by fire." The bishop takes this advice literally, and much of the rest of the novel consists of his report back to the archbishop about what he has done to reassert Christian order and hegemony. After an arduous journey through ice and snow, the bishop arrives at Gardar in New Thule to discover ten recently slaughtered corpses. The local chieftain, Einar Sokkason, is of no help, nor is the one remaining priest, a "porcine monster" living openly with a "scarce-pubescent female." The bishop wastes no time with his first decision: to have the priest burned at the stake for "heresy, apostasy, sacrilege and sodomy." In his continual struggle against heresy amongst these primordial people, the bishop resorts to increasingly desperate and even sadistic strategies to maintain his ecclesiastical authority, including having ears torn off and eyes gouged out as punishment for apostates. (He also resorts to beheading, which, considering the alternatives, is something of a blessing.) Eventually the bishop develops a sexual relationship with a local woman, Avarana, although he disingenuously hints in his report to the archbishop that she is a liar andthus not to be trusted. The occasional intervention of a third-person narrative puts the bishop's growing derangement and hypocrisy into perspective. Sparse, rawboned and fascinating.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585679201
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 1/10/2008
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,419,339
  • Product dimensions: 4.74 (w) x 7.72 (h) x 0.84 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2008

    A reviewer

    Hailed as original, different, imaginative, stunning, even amusing: What liars promoters are. The book is poorly written, and offers nothing better than the confused wanderings of an uneducated author. Read a true account of life in the Arctic for a more realistic, gripping story.

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