Air and Fire

Rupert Thomson, Author
Rupert Thomson, Author Alfred A. Knopf $23 (309p) ISBN 978-0-679-42506-9
Reviewed on: 01/03/1994
Release date: 01/01/1994
Paperback - 309 pages - 978-0-679-74730-7
Hardcover - 978-0-517-46889-0
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-0-7475-1382-7
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-7475-3694-9
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Thomson is an English novelist whose Dreams of Leaving and The Five Gates of Hell have been well received on both sides of the Atlantic; and Air and Fire is quite a tour de force. Set in an acutely observed Baja California, Mexico, just before the turn of the century, it is the story of a French engineer, Theo Valence, an associate of the great Gustav Eiffel, sent out to set up a prefabricated iron church to the glory of the French colony in a remote mining town. His beautiful wife Suzanne, an adventurous soul who loves her husband much more powerfully than he can ever love her, is at once appalled and entranced by the grindingly hot, dusty town and its Mexican and Indian inhabitants. A rootless young American prospector, Wilson Pharaoh, falls passionately under her spell but cannot bring himself to interfere with what he thinks of as a happy marriage, and rides off blindly into the desert. She also comes to obsess the local Mexican army commander, who writes her a florid love letter, takes her for a trip in his private submarine and, to show his suicidal passion, shoots his horse for her sake. These events give only a hint of the remarkable blend of surrealism and romantic extravagance, dreams and harsh reality, that Thomson achieves. His writing is at once spare and rich, evoking a dazzlingly strange world with humor and terror; and the dying fall of the ending is poignantly exquisite. Air and Fire is that unusual combination, a powerfully felt romance that is also literature. (Jan.)
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