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Symons, Scott.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 513pp, cloth, $24.55, ISBN 0-7710-8379-3. CIP

Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 14 Number 4
1986 July

The street dissolves and Toronto journalist York Mackenzie, drawn by tambourines and drums, finds himself circling a small crowd, trying to catch a glimpse of Moroccan dancers. In the centre of the circle, a boy leaps straight into the sky, knees clutched to his chest. And slams back to the shuddering earth. And then hurtles up to the sky again. And so on. York's head is spinning as he sways to the music. For the next five hundred pages York's head continues to spin. The colour and intensity of Moroccan life is a little too heady for the earnest, humourless Canadian.

Mackenzie has fled to Marrakech, Morocco to find himself. Or is it to lose himself? No matter. He has also come in the role of erotic eschatologist. That is right, erotic eschatologist: "in search of final things mediated here and now through Eros." Mackenzie's spiritual quest soon leads him to discover the supremacy of the helmet of flesh, the male penis, which, apparently, is also Morocco's chief tourist attraction.

Invited to see the so-called real Morocco, Mackenzie journeys inward to discover the delights and the dangers of Berber country. But, for a long time, the journey does not make much sense to the delirious traveller. You see, a shaman has put the evil eye on expedition; besides, it is hard to make much sense of an erotic nightmare. Which brings us to Mackenzie's excursion into the past.

There are problems back home. Does John of Osprey Cove still love Mackenzie? Does stodgy old Toronto still love Mackenzie? Will Christine ever lighten up and let York see his son again? The journey into the desert and later into the mountains helps with these problems. But first, there is Moroccan adventure.

Stranded in the desert, Mackenzie must learn to turn wine into water. In Zagora he must learn to avoid stumbling into the women's compound on the wedding day. In the mountains he must learn to trust the goats in high places. Later he must learn not to be frightened of talking rugs. Having learned these things, York is ready to go home to Osprey Cove and John, Helmet of Flesh is a colourful novel, but not a very satisfying one. I attribute part of the problem to the main character. He simply does not do very much; instead things just happen to him. The real Morocco that eludes all the other tourists swarms into York's life and sweeps him away. Then, finally, it releases him. I do not feel as if I know him. Nor do I care much what happens to him.

The other problem is stylistic. Sentence fragments. Which get a little irritating after a while. As you know. York asking with his eyes. York listening to a rug. York swaying to the music. Scott Symons threatening to follow with a sequel.

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin C.I., St. Thomas, Ont.
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