Once the Orme family’s magnificent ancestral estate, Observatory Mansions is now a crumbling apartment complex, home to an eccentric group of misfits. One of them is Francis Orme, who earns his livelihood as a living statue. When not practicing “inner and outer stillness,” Francis steals the cherished possessions of others to add to his private museum. The other tenants are equally as odd: his mother and father, who haven’t interacted in years; a man who continually sweats and cries; a recluse who prefers television to reality; and a woman who behaves like a dog. When Anna Tapp arrives among them she stirs their souls, bringing long forgotten memories to the surface–and arousing fears that this new resident intends to provoke a metamorphosis.
Reminiscent of Beckett, Ionesco, and Millhauser but startlingly original, Observatory Mansions is also unexpectedly beguiling. Upon its publication in England, it was a literary sensation, and John Fowles called it “easily the most brilliant fiction I’ve seen this year.”
Playwright and freelance illustrator Carey's impressive first novel is so steeped in grotesque oddity, warped values and dysfunction that it makes David Lynch's work seem sunny and salubrious by comparison. Veering only occasionally toward painfully obvious symbolism, Carey's debut is a darkly idiosyncratic, sharply observed study of lonely men and women stranded on the bleakest periphery of conventional human intercourse. Narrator Francis Orme maintains a hidden "museum" comprising solely worthless objects pilfered from unsuspecting friends, relatives and strangers. The scion of a once-wealthy clan, Francis is a reclusive 37-year-old who makes his living impersonating public statuary. He wears spotless white gloves at all times and lives with his elderly, semicomatose parents in an unnamed city in an apartment complex called Observatory Mansions, housed in what was once the Orme family mansion. Francis's fellow tenants are hardly less eccentric. There's Peter Bugg, a retired pedagogue who can't seem to stop crying or perspiring; Claire Higg, a dowdy dowager with an all-consuming penchant for soap operas; and Twenty (so called because she lives in flat number 20), a bedraggled migr from an unspecified nation who believes that she's a dog. The inhabitants of Observatory Mansions may not be the happiest of people, but they've come to feel secure in their unflagging misery and in their rigid adherence to mindless routine. Secure, that is, until the arrival of Anna Tap, a feisty, fiercely optimistic new tenant who challenges their ossified notions of self, community and social interaction. Carey's precise, deadpan prose is a delight, effectively filtering the story's bizarre twists through his protagonist's equally oddball sensibilities. Francis Orme emerges as a memorable, even winningly demented narrator. His slow progression from alienation and anomie toward a more functional, openhearted worldview makes for an absorbing, unconventional, seriocomic odyssey. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.