"Entrancing . . . every sentence uncoils with supple grace." The Los Angeles Times
“I cannot say how much I admire Kathryn Davis and her latest triumph, THE WALKING TOUR. The book is so beautifully written it takes one’s breath away — brilliant in every way, and often delightfully funny.”Sigrid Nunez
"Kathryn Davis is brilliant."Penelope Fitzgerald
“Davis’s approach to novel-writing is so original, and the results so magical, that trying to review her fiction in a thousand words on a tight deadline feels . . . doomed.”
“A brilliantly dexterous novel” (NEW YORK TIMES), “so ambitious, so smart, so beautifully written that it is a pleasure to stand in its light.”
Making your way through Kathryn Davis' enthralling and mystifying new novel, you might come to a place -- several places, actually -- where you lose sight of the clear narrative path. This reader did.
The Walking Tour disorients: It sends you flipping pages back to see if you've missed major plot turns, like a violent crime or the introduction of a new character. But, like a hike through a rocky and vaguely menacing landscape, the novel, Davis' fourth, is also pulse-quickening and, at times, sublime.
This much is clear: Sometime in the late 20th century, two cyber-entrepreneurs, Bobby Rose and Coleman Snow, together with their unstable and artistic wives, Carole Ridingham and Ruth Farr, join a tour group and set off to see the Welsh countryside.
As the group paces around the Gower peninsula, however, tensions among the members -- sexual, professional and otherwise -- escalate so fast that the atmosphere turns supernatural. Ruth has mythological hallucinations; Carole, a famous painter, battles schizophrenia and mad bees; and an enigmatic Asian businessman, possibly in concert with Coleman, may or may not be plotting among ghosts to take over Bobby's business (a company responsible for a successful but insidious software called SnowWrite and RoseRead). In the eye of this storm is a tragedy -- two deaths -- that's left obscure until the novel's end. Even leaving aside the prominent mischief wrought by the masque-like roster of supporting characters, this is an elaborate narrative matrix.
Davis compounds her novel's complexity by having the tale of the tour narrated in fragments by the daughter of Bobby and Carole, Susan Rose. Susan sets out to construct her parents' story from scant evidence, which she shuffles like cards: court transcripts, Ruth's diary, Carole's postcards and the testimony of Monkey, a soothsayer from her own time. As she pieces things together, Susan also contends with the dangers of her 21st century world, a weird property-free dystopia with a
Clockwork Orange ambience, dominated by Monkey's scary post-technology gang, the Strags.
The effect of the two intertwining narratives is an epistemological hide-and-seek in which the storytelling often conceals as much as it reveals. But it's well worth embracing the book's intricacies: Though Davis takes obvious pleasure in playing out her novel's dense setup, there is nothing rarefied about her precise and often epigrammatic prose. (Of Carole, she writes: "Really sad people never break your heart.") Davis makes frequent reference to Wordsworth, and, like the Romantic poets, she is keenly attuned to those moments in which the natural world has psychological reverberations. When Susan reflects on girls who seem to transform themselves from "baby savage to smooth operator without missing a beat," Davis elaborates: "They never know what it's like to hear in the rustling noise of summer's end the approach of a destiny so at odds with your parents' that it seems like a betrayal."
Here and throughout the novel, Davis expertly positions Susan between nostalgia and ambition. In
The Walking Tour, she has created a profound and demanding narrative double-helix -- one that requires its characters to forge a future with an incomplete template from their pasts, just as the reader is required to leave clear and orthodox paths to enter Davis' heady wilderness. Salon
Davis's fourth and thoroughly engaging novel (after
Hell) is a witty blend of genres: mystery, courtroom drama, futuristic tale and a reworking of Welsh myth. In some unspecified year in the 21st century, when ideologies have transformed to the point where "the whole idea of edge...[has]...become a thing of the past," Susan R. Rose hides away on Maine's coast, in what was once her family home, reconstructing the events that led to her mother's disappearance and certain death during a walking tour through Wales, when Susan was 13. Equipped with letters and cards sent by her mother, a famous painter; a stack of unlabeled photos; a transcript from a wrongful death suit; and a laptop notebook her mother's oldest friend (and deepest rival) kept, Susan pieces together the spats, jealousies and sudden couplings of the tourists on a pilgrimage. Although she is at first alone, Susan's privacy is invaded by Monkey, a boy encamped nearby. He's a Strag, a member of a futuristic culture that is propertyless and thus lawless, "a triumph of the virtual." As in any good mystery, several possible suspects emerge with a variety of reasons to have killed Carole Ridingham Rose (even Monkey could hold a clue), yet Davis manages to keep this plot line alive while ingeniously weaving her imaginative settings. The playfulness of Davis's writing is irresistible. Laced with fairy tales, neologisms and poems, her prose is clever, sometimes dazzling, skating lightly over complex ideas that otherwise might bog down the narrative. Looking at an Andy Warhol painting, Susan's father says to her mother, "I like it. It's like money; it skips the middle step." One insistent theme surfacing in this highly original novel is the relationships between property and morality, between time and space. Davis's take on these subjects is intellectually rigorous, while the suspense remains satisfyingly taut. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Businessman Bobby Rose and software guru Coleman Snow anticipate that their new joint venture will make them wealthy and also revolutionize the reader/text environment (totally interactive interface!) but not that it will revolutionize society as well. Their wealth at the sale of the enterprise leads them and their wives on a less-than-idyllic walking tour of Wales with an oddly mixed ensemble, where a mysterious fatality occurs. From the future, Rose's daughter tries to unravel the events of the tour from her ruined estate, drawing on court records, journals, and an old laptop. Davis (Labrador, etc.) offers an unusual hybrid of sf, mystery, and literary fiction that keeps the reader guessing. One quibble: some intriguing facets of the future (e.g. "Strag culture") are hinted at too often before helpful elaboration kicks in. Otherwise, an excellent choice for all public libraries.--Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Davis, who seems equal parts Jane Austen and Isak Dinesen, offers a somber fable of longing, frustrated love, and guilt. Once again (
The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, 1993, etc.), Davis draws from a variety of genres (the mystery, the novel of manners, the speculative) to assemble her narrative: in part the attempt of a grown, and still despairing, daughterwhile on a walking tour of Walesto pierce the various mysteries surrounding the supposed death of her mother, a brilliant painter and a schizophrenic; and also in part a precise study of the duplicitous interactions among the painter, Carole, her husband, Bobby, and her supposed best friend, Ruth, a novelist, and Coleman, Ruth's husband. Davis has a keen ear for the brash chat of bright, uncertain, driven people. Bobby and Coleman have become rich as a result of "SnowWrite&RoseRead," a method that allows readers to interact aggressively with any electronic text, so that the space between reader and writer vanishes. All of this is described by Susan from the vantage point of some point in the 21st century, when the environment is unraveling, society diminishing, technology collapsing. In the decaying ruins of her parents' mansion, Susan sits, using Ruth's journals, her mother's letters, and the extensive inquest transcripts, to piece together what happened in Wales. What emerges is a series of betrayals: of Bobby by Coleman, of Carole by Ruth, and of Carole by the ever-bored and amorous Bobby. There is, at the end, a startling suggestion about Carole's fate, verging on the visionary. Along the way, Davis, in a prose that nicely mingles a cool, ironic tone with exact, perfect descriptions of landscapes and ruins,and of the charged interactions between characters, offers an acidic portrait of the money-mad present, as well as a provocative brief on art's place and purpose. A complex, tightly packed, ambitious work, by one of the most thoroughly original (and valuable) of contemporary writers.