Fata Morgana by William Kotzwinkle

William Kotzwinkle must be the most idiosyncratic (some might say the weirdest) writer active today. One of his books, for example, is “The Bear who went over the mountain”, a story about a Grizzly who attacks and devours a writer who has sequestered himself in a mountain cabin in order to finish his great novel. The bear then walks over the mountain into metropolitan Southern California, carrying the manuscript, where he finds himself a feted literary celebrity!

Fata Morgana is, in my view, his masterwork. It is a homage to the great early detective writing of Edgar Allen Poe, but – just as Virgil did much more than merely imitate Homer – so Kotzwinkle adds a brilliant modern touch to Poe’s originality. Inspector Paul Picard – alias Monsieur Fanjoy – is for me the greatest literary detective of all. In this story he encounters every form of human conceit and deceit as he pursues a sinister magician who possesses a deadly fortune telling machine.

Kotzwinkle, better than any other writer I know, is the master of the single detail that tells you everything about a character in a brief, microcosmic glimpse into their unconscious.

In this story it is a destitute street cleaner who sleeps rough and rummages through the garbage in search of a meagre living. He is one of the army of prostitutes, pimps, down-and-outs and scoundrels that Fanjoy retains as informers. His clothes are merely rags he has found in the garbage, but in the buttonhole of his threadbare coat, he wears a grubby paper flower he has rescued from the junk. He is a man who has sunk low, but he has not lost the capacity to dream.

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2 Replies to “Fata Morgana by William Kotzwinkle”

  1. Simon Wood says:

    William Kotzwinkle’s Fata Morgana is one of the best books of the Twentieth Century. I have read it more than a score of times, each reading revealing some little nugget I somehow hadn’t noticed before. It is enchanting, captivating, exciting and erotic, and the ending, although familiar, always comes as a surprise. I have the privilege of owning a signed first edition, and I wouldn’t part with it for all the tea in China.

  2. richard@richardmilton.co.uk says:

    Like you, Simon, I read and re-read this delightful book often and, like you, continue to find new delights each time. I quite agree it is one of the finest novels of the twentieth century.

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