Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Review: "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym"

I'm not sure I ought to even call this a review, since it's really more just some scattered thoughts on Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Oxford World's Classics edition). It's a bizarre little novel, filled with strange incongruities, fantastic happenings, and an ending that baffles more than satisfies. Is this Poe at his best, skilfully limning the limits of narrative fiction and brilliantly parodying the travel narratives, hoax stories and unbelievable adventure tales of his day? Or is it him at his scattered, disorganized worst, tossing motifs in hither and yon in an attempt to make a short story into a longer work?

I have to say I'm not sure. I'm not sure Poe was sure, either, about what he wanted to do with this work. There's a little bit of everything here: spiritualism and deliverance, a bit of cryptography, perhaps some racial allegory, a splash of zoological and botanical exploration, cannibalism and hardship narrative, &c. &c. &c., all colored by the possibility that some of all of the narrative is entirely the product of Mr. Pym's imagination, and that the reader then and now ought to be careful.

I'm intrigued by the journey, and by Poe's inclusion of the search for the mysterious Aurora Islands in the story. It would make rather a cool Google Map to track the voyage, wouldn't it? [Update: Decided it would make a nifty Google Map, so I mapped it].