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Burnett, Virgil.

Erin (Ont.), Procupine's Quill, c1984. 108pp, paper, $7.95, ISBN 88984-055-5.

Reviewed by Patrick Dunn

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

Jaekin, an artist in Virgil Bumett's A Comedy of Eros, is forced to earn his living teaching drawing. During a late afternoon session, he notices a girl who is not a regular student in the art school. After the rest of the class depart, Jaekin and the stranger are ineluctably drawn together, and they couple fiercely on the studio floor. Upon leaving, he introduces himself. For her part, she refuses to reveal her name, preferring to have Jaekin provide one. He settles on "Calypso" just before they reach her apartment. Once there they fall asleep only to wake in the dead of night to continue their lovemaking. The next day Calypso bids him return "when it's dark again."

This he does. By the end of the week, they have established a routine that consists of dining in her small room followed by prolonged, voluptuous encounters. Yet for all their passion they know little, if anything, of each other. Of her life before their meeting, the enigmatic mistress says nothing, and Jaekin rarely questions her. Thus engaged, winter passes into spring. Ironically, just when Jaekin is beginning to experience a tremendous sense of well-being, (his own artistic endeavours are progressing somewhat to his satisfaction), his ordered world is turned upside-down. Arriving for their habitual tryst, he finds a stranger in the apartment with Calypso. Discomposure turns to dreadful shock when he realises that the sinister figure possesses a face identical to his own.

Struck from behind, he falls unconscious, but not before he understands that his double is a woman. When he regains his senses he finds himself bound and gagged. Calypso and the stranger are still in the room but leave shortly thereafter. Managing to free himself, Jaekin ransacks Calypso's belongings for a clue to her possible whereabouts. Suffice it to say that he does track her and his double to their European villa. However, what Jaekin discovers when he does find them is certainly not what he or the reader expect.

Two of Burnett's other works, Towers at the Edge of a World* and Skiamachid**, explore the nature of reality from novel, fascinating perspectives. Continuing in a similar vein with this book, the author concentrates on the reality of love using the "double" as his central literary device. Burnett's title puns Shakespeare's play, and in this Comedy of Errors the joke, and it is an unnerving, painful one, is on Jaekin.

Many of Burnett's male characters are extremely self-assured, usually self-complacent. Jaekin is certainly no exception. However, his involvement with Calypso shatters his smugness and undermines his self-confidence. With the appearance of his twin he must literally confront himself. He is forced to reconsider his own worth, not only as an artist, (he must struggle with numerous mediums to find one that will allow him to capture Calypso's essential being), but also as a potent lover. The episode that has Jaekin waking, helpless on the bed, (a nice ironic touch in itself), forced to endure cruel taunts about his inability to truly "know" Calypso is a masterful reworking of the scene in which the reader sees Jaekin amidst the inept, uninspired students in his drawing class. This time, however, the tables are turned, and Jaekin must suffer the sting, the ignominy of his own small talent, his limited capacity for loving and understanding. The fact that he points the finger at himself, in the persona of his double, makes the criticism all the more psychologically devastating, all the more impossible to rationalize. As always, Burnett's writing is extremely polished. Though spare, it is amazingly rich in allusion and symbol without ever being pedantic. The black-and-white sketches that appear throughout the text provide a fine visual counterpoint to it. Since the work is, among other things, unabashedly erotic, secondary school librarians might well find it an inappropriate acquisition. On the other hand, I recommend it most readily for adult collections.

Patrick Dunn, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

*Reviewed vol. X/l January 1982 p.15.
**Reviewed vol. XI/I January 1983 p.13.

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