cover image Theo's Odyssey

Theo's Odyssey

Catherine Clement. Arcade Publishing, $26.95 (576pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-499-1

Best known in this country as a Lacanian feminist scholar, Cl mentis is also a fiction writer. Her latest work is a long novel of ideas, best described as a cross between Around the World in Eighty Days and a survey course in religion. Theo Fournay, the 14-year-old son of a biology teacher and a director of research at Paris's Pasteur Institute, is suffering from a leukemia-like disease. Willing to try anything for a cure, Theo's parents agree to let his Aunt Martha, a rich and adventurous ""rolling stone,"" take Theo around the world in search of holiness and healing. This premise isn't quite credible: at first we're told that Theo's doctor has forbidden him to walk to the lyc e down the street, and then, suddenly, Theo's touring the monuments of Egypt. Aunt Martha is a New Ager with political spunk (she's been banned from China for taking part in illegal demonstrations), and an unsophisticated longing for belief lurks beneath her wordly erudition. She and Theo visit the sacred places of the planet--Jerusalem, Cairo, Rome, Benares, Kyoto, Bahia and even, American readers will be amused to learn, New York City (where Theo is instructed in that exotic American faith, Protestantism). To entertain Theo, who loves computer games, it is arranged that he must guess each new destination, phoning Fatou, his girlfriend in Paris, for clues. The earnestly conceived but breezily written narrative is interspersed with potted summaries of religions and cults by the various sages, rabbis, priests and priestesses Theo and Aunt Martha encounter along the way. This book will certainly be compared to Sophie's World, another novelistic popularization of abstruse philosophy. However, Cl ment's didactic story is more cumbersome and less witty than its Norwegian predecessor. (Oct.)