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Prisoner in a Red-rose Chain

by Jeffrey Moore

Early in Moore’s Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain Jeremy Davenant, the narrator, is given a page ripped out of an encyclopedia and led to believe that it’s the blueprint for his life. He subsequently interprets everything that happens to him through it, becoming attracted to an East Indian woman because she reminds him of Shakuntala, a Hindu love story; approving of people because their astrological signs match that of Shaka, a Zulu chief; and travelling to the Ukrainian city of Shakhtyorsk (“City of Fool’s Errands”) after Milena, his girlfriend, whom he compares to a Shakespeare character. The result is a satirical depiction of one man’s obsessions as Jeremy becomes increasingly unable to tell the difference between reality and fiction, and increasingly unconcerned with the distinction between the two.

In its layering of meaning upon meaning, of endless referential chains that efface all differences between text and world, Moore takes on all the labyrinthian twistings and metaphysical explorations of an Eco or a Borges. The book becomes a self-reflexive meditation on the very act of reading itself, and comically explores the ways in which we make meaning in our everyday lives. For example, Jeremy’s university life is particularly absurdist (and accurate) as his academic colleagues reveal their inability to function outside of the world of literary texts.

Nevertheless, the satirical and literary aspirations of Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain are marred by some weaknesses. Too much of the novel is dominated by Jeremy’s romantic yearning for Milena, and the pursuit of the seemingly unobtainable woman quickly becomes tired and clichéd. There is a split focus in the writing of the novel, and the result is an uneven fusion of literary exploration and unoriginal romantic comedy.

Moore overcomes these shortcomings with an ending that returns to the more challenging questions of the novel, concluding with change and uncertainty rather than a simple romantic resolution. In the end, Jeremy finds his life once again mirroring the encyclopedia page, which doesn’t actually end but breaks off in mid-sentence, on the word “is.”