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Virgo, Sean.

Toronto, Exile Editions, 1987. 338pp. cloth. $26.95. ISBN 0-920428-49-5. Distributed by General Publishing.

Reviewed by L. Maingon

Volume 16 Number 4
1988 July

Selakhi's protagonist is a seventeen-year-old rebel poet/angel, Darien Hughes, whose repressed sexuality brings out a passion for the irrational, the occult and the mythical. He becomes a messenger between the mutually alien realities of Western civilization and Polynesian primitivism, between good and evil. Darien's tale is a labyrinth of retold myths and tales that inform the being of their teller. Virgo's narrative techniques of limited third-person perspective and limited stream of consciousness are appropriate to this labyrinth.

A reconstruction of the plot in linear prose presents itself as the diary of a young poet who takes refuge in nihilist individualism against the bullying norms of Western social consensus represented by the righteousness of the English public school system. The death of his mother and the betrayal he feels at his father's re-marriage spark off Darien's rebellion against Western patriarchic and phallocentric values. The rebellion's beginnings are a homosexual affair with an older painter and petty thieving.

Darien leaves England to join his father, who is a petty colonial officer in the Solomon Islands. Darien flees his father and his origins to go to Selakhi, the home of the witch-doctor, Karifia, and his tribe, the Sharks. In Selakhi, identity, lineage and hierarchy are never clear. Darien immediately falls in love with Bolly, who is also Ihugeni who is also Karifia's niece or daughter. Darien discovers the island's forbidden areas, which subsequently turn out to contain pockets of placer gold. Darien returns to his hut, fathers a still-born baby with Bolly, collects gold nuggets, and finally contracts malaria. To obtain the gold, Darien slays its guardian, Bolly's half-brother.

The elders of the tribe do not punish Darien, but rather tell him a folk-tale about a renegade who metamorphoses into a shark and is finally dismembered by the tribe. Stricken by malaria, Darien is rescued by his father. Karifia lures Darien to the beach, where Bolly and her companions proceed to tear up the Orphic Darien and thereby fulfill the elders' tale.

Selakhi is a very ambitious novel whose results are ambivalent. The effects of "slippage" created by various linguistic oppositions within the narration, combined with the juxtaposition of prose and poetry, lead to a high level of redundancy, which ultimately becomes excessive. The aesthetics that initially draw the reader in become alienating.

Selakhi is a well-printed challenging novel, although frequent errors of typesetting and an incessant confusion between "i" and "t" provide an additional source of irritation.

L. Maingon, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.
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