Bibliophilic Book Challenge: Stevenson Under the Palm Trees by Alberto Manguel

Here is another Bibliophilic Book challenge book (my sixth), this one a novel about a famous author. In the story, he is writing his final book, Weir of Hermiston (although it is never mentioned by title).

Year published:2004
Genre: Novel
Setting & time: Samoa, 1894

Possible S-P-O-I-L-E-R-S ahead.

At sunset one day Robert Louis Stevenson meets Mr. Baker, a sinister Scottish missionary, on the beach below his house on Samoa. This meeting is the prelude to a nasty spate of violence that causes a stir in Stevenson’s mind.

The writing is evocative and lovely. The story reworks of some of Stevenson’s own themes, especially those of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, causing the reader some unease because of the suggestion that perhaps Mr. Baker is really Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, or making them wonder if perhaps the whole story is a figment of Stevenson’s fevered imagination.

I think I have mentioned before that I am not particularly fond of authors taking real people and inserting them into novels as themselves and having them say and do things they never would have in real life, but that doesn't apply here, because Manguel simply has imagined a minor episode of Stevenson’s life that doesn’t ring false like so many of these kinds of stories do.

Here is a quote from the book. Robert Louis Stevenson is sitting in a shabby room in Apia in Samoa, having a drink with Mr. Baker and discussing religion:

... Our civilisation is a hollow fraud. All the fun of life is lost by it. All it gains is that a large number of persons can continue to be contemporaneously unhappy on the surface of the globe. But there are so many moments of utter joy, glimpses of paradise, and for those I live. And yet I would not be the instrument of anybody's suffering for the sake of even one of those instants.

Rating: A nice, short read about an interesting author, perfect to whet one’s appetite for reading some of Stevenson's books. 4 stars.


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