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Flawed Angel, by John Fuller

A sweeping philosophical fable from a playful poet's pen

Fuller was better known as a poet before he turned his hand to fiction, and this book combines the two forms. The fabulous plot carries us along at a goodish speed, and the poems slow that plot down. In fact, they serve as meditative interludes, pools at which we pause to yawn, stare and muse upon one or another of the many philosophical utterances that the characters in Flawed Angel tend to deal in. In his youth, Fuller wrote poetry heavily influenced by Auden's, and the poems embedded within this fable are often reminiscent of Auden in their playfully enigmatic qualities.

The book begins with the announcement by a rascally beggar of the survival of a child. This announcement is unwelcome to the Akond because he knows what it means: his deformed first-born, a boy whose existence he has refused to acknowledge, is still alive. (The beggar is severely punished, and loses several fingers.) The boy has been living wild in the forest, and has survived thanks only to the generosity of a mining engineer.

The unmasking of that child, and his reintegration into the community of the court, is the story of the book. The manner of writing is sculpted, arch, luscious, mellifluous, anachronistic, and a touch wayward. At times, it feels not so much a fable for adults as an almost too selfconscious exercise in fable-writing.

The date is unclear for a long time; we are lulled into believing it all takes place in some imaginary time-outside-time. But no, suddenly a renegade half-platoon of Napoleonic soldiers appears, and we have a time-frame at last: the early years of the 19th century, after Napoleon's Egyptian expedition.

This is a tonic to the tale. What had seemed at times like the endless dribblings of timeless wisdom are replaced by something much defter and more thought-provoking - a battle between Eastern philosophies and the ideals of the Enlightenment. A leaning towards persiflage is swept aside by the steely blade of rational argument, and thereafter these two impulses are held in agreeable tension.

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