Phosphor in Dreamland

Rikki Ducornet, Author Dalkey Archive Press $12.95 (165p) ISBN 978-1-56478-084-3
Although Ducornet's Tetralogy of Elements ended in 1993 with the NBCC nominee The Jade Cabinet, her wondrous new novel might represent the most unpredictable property of all: light. In letters to a friend, the lonely narrator describes the fantastical history of his native Birdland. In the mid-17th century, a clubfooted, cross-eyed baby was abandoned on the doorstep of the island's unsavory and unique prelate, Fogginus. Nicknamed Phosphor for his fancied luminosity, the child spends much of his youth locked away in his guardian's sea trunk, where he re-discovers the camera obscura, gradually embellishing its images with a third dimension and permanence. Together with Fogginus and his patron, Fango Fantasma, a particularly noxious local grandee, Phosphor sets out to document Birdland both in images (through which Fantasma believes he will possess the island) and in an epic poem about his homeland. Phosphor in Dreamland is filled with wry references to Swift (a scholarly double biography titled A Swift and Phosphorous Eye is alluded to), and like that satirist's, Ducornet's humor is sly and sharp. Unlike Swift, though, she also conveys a tender melancholy: for the last of the aboriginal loplops, a giant bird tended by an arboreal barber, and for Birdland's past, which is preserved only by Phosphor's invention. ``Thanks to this wonderful machine, a city that exists no more, a world still even to sublimity, is contained as if by magic on flat pieces of glass.'' (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1995
Release date: 10/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
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