The Death of the Body

C.K. Stead

Harvill Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
Our first-person narrator moves from London to Milan to write his novel. There the padrone of the cafe where he works and Uta, the wife of the Swedish consul, argue with him about his plot and characters. Uta becomes a kind of Muse, without whom he can not write and who he ends up following around Europe. And the personified Story, in a blue folder he carries everywhere, has a mind of its own.
"I went to the Cafe Corso Magenta at the usual time and found Uta already waiting for me. She seemed agitated, almost irritable. She didn't like the scene in which Harry moons about feeling surges of love for three women and two sons.

'To be frank with you,' she said frankly, 'I don't believe it.'

I assured her it was true — Harry was like that — but she said she was sure she knew his type and that I wasn't telling the whole truth about him."

The Story is set in Auckland and centres on professor of philosophy Harry Butler, who muses on the Mind/Body Problem while his wife Claire has turned his study into a Sufi shrine where she chants "I am not this body". Meanwhile the Drug Squad is using their kitchen to photograph the visitors to the neighbouring house — until Harry boots them out to protect his old friend Jason. Bodies are inextricably tied up with sex, of course, and Harry also has problems with his student-mistress Louise — especially when the Philosophy Department Women's Collective becomes involved. And eventually a dead body turns up...

This is all worked together in The Death of the Body into a clever, witty metafiction. Reflexivity, narrative games, and philosophy are central, but Stead never pushes them too hard, instead making them integral parts of his plotting and characterisation. The result is insightful into the workings of both minds and bodies, but never stops entertaining — even the chapter titles are playful.

March 2003

External links:
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Related reviews:
- C.K. Stead - The Secret History of Modernism
- C.K. Stead - Talking About O'Dwyer
- more Australian + New Zealand literature
- books published by Harvill Press
%T The Death of the Body
%A Stead, C.K.
%I Harvill Press
%D 1999
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860467547
%P 212pp