No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012/60: Angelica Lost and Found -- Russell Hoban

"Dum spiro, spero, baby, if I may speak classical and modern at the same time."
"Gimme an asterisk."
"'While I breathe, I hope.'" [location 1026]

He's a pictorial representation of an imaginary beast in a Renaissance oil painting. She's the eternal heroine of an epic poem, currently incarnate in San Francisco. Their love is ... complicated.

This is Hoban at his most playful, with a voice that reminds me of R. A. Lafferty -- I'm not sure why -- or, on occasion, John Crowley. This short novel strays from the sublime (Emma Kirkby singing Monteverdi) to the ridiculous (Volatore's ejection from Vassily's body), via hairdressing salons, art galleries, and a rock on the isle of Ebuda.

Volatore is the hitherto-nameless hippogriff ridden by Ruggiero in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. With the help of an intimidated sorcerer, he manages to turn up in contemporary San Francisco. Volatore doesn't stick to one form, either, switching between idea and human and animal. This leads to some touching scenes of (technically) bestiality, and a rather nasty revenge on the aforementioned Vassily.

Angelica Lost and Found doesn't have the wordplay, let alone the mythic resonance, of Riddley Walker: but it's a rollicking read, with undercurrents of profundity and a po-mo self-awareness. ("I was an ontological outlaw" [loc. 974]). There are weird resonances (a painting of 'tiny, tiny dancing giants in the dim red caverns of sleep', the description of which surfaces, variously mangled, from time to time; the voice of Emma Kirkby; the power of placebos) and a continuo regarding the importance of being based in the right reality. Magic realism? Literary fanfiction? Whatever it's filed under, Angelica Lost and Found is vastly inventive.


  1. Ruggiero rides a griffin whilst slaying the hippogriff--in the painting by Ingres, at least. I've never read Ariosto, so perhaps there was some hippogriff-riding involved.

    This was Hoban's last novel (he died in November 2011). I've ordered a used copy, based on your review, and as a fan of his work.

  2. I stand corrected, now that the book has arrived via Royal Mail to my mailbox here in Pennsylvania. He's riding the hippogriff, which is a griffin-like creature. He's killing a sea monster called (get this) an orc.