Gods best unsung

Ragusa, modern Dubrovnik, Croatia

The Malacia Tapestry
by Brian Aldiss.
Triad/Panther 1978 (1976)

“Until you have understanding of your nature, your errors — like the errors of history — repeat and repeat themselves in an endless fiction. That is the only knowledge there is.”

‘The Ancestral Hunt’, Book Two

Picaresque, decadent, fantastical, political, dualistic — The Malacian Tapestry lives up to all of these aspects and more. As in the title of the dumb show, the staging of which threads its way through the novel, this novel is a Joyous Tragedy featuring intrigue and betrayal, love and hate, progressives and repressives, apotheosis and degradation.

Above all, its actors appear to be woven into a metaphysical tapestry which, in the opinion of one of the characters, is “presumably for the edification of the gods, who could then inspect us without interference.” Or, as a modern lyricist wrote, “Oh man, wonder if he’ll ever know | He’s in the best selling show.”

In this rococo novel Brian Aldiss weaves a splendid tapestry for our edification, interlacing philosophy and art as viewed through the self-centred eyes of its coxcomb narrator: drama, mime, fantoccini theatre, shadow-puppetry and rituals vie with love, lust, licentiousness for the attention of our greedy eyes. But, master magician that he is, Aldiss casts a spell so beguiling that we’re prepared to believe in sorcerers and astrologers, in mythical and prehistoric beasts, in a corrupt city state of unknown antiquity and in inhabitants with a touch of the reptilian about them.

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