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The Book of Revelation: A Novelby Rupert Thomson
Synopses & Reviews
1. The novel begins and ends with first person narration. Why do you think Thomson chooses to tell the story of the protagonist's imprisonment and sexual abuse in the third person? Did you find this narrative shift disorienting? How does this shift affect the emotional texture of the events that take place in the white room? How would these scenes be different if told from a first person, "I" perspective?
2. Thomson's story hinges on a startling reversal of roles, with women assuming the positions of power and reducing the male to an object for their sadistic pleasure. How did you react to this reversal? Did you find it believable? Disturbing? Why do you think Thomson cast his novel in this way?
3. The plot of The Book of Revelation takes off from an old joke: "He went out to get a pack of cigarettes and. . . ." When the narrator does not return, his girlfriend simply assumes that he's left her for another woman, even though he'd always been faithful. What might Thomson be saying about the real stories that lie beneath the conventional ones with which we try to explain the unexplainable?
4. When the narrator asks his captors why they have kidnapped him, one of them responds, "Because you're beautiful. . . . Because we love you" [p. 35]. Is this a serious or mocking response? What do you think their real motives are? Do you think the narrator is right in suggesting that they are acting out their own sexual abuse and taking revenge for the damage that had once been done to them? What can be inferred about the nature of that damage from their behavior towards the narrator? Why does Thomson keep their motivations concealed?
5. Towards the end of his captivity, the narrator reaches a point at which he feels "his fate was no more or less than he deserved. There was nothing random or accidental about what had happened to him. There was nothing unlucky about it" [pp. 90-91]. Why does the narrator see his situation in this way at this point in his captivity? Does this interpretation reveal anything about his character?
6. At one point, the narrator realizes the white room he's held captive in is a "kind of stage" and that he was being "asked to sustain a performance with no knowledge of how long it was supposed to last" [p. 47]. In what ways are the torments he suffers tailored specifically to the fact that he is a dancer? What kinds of performances is he forced to give? How does he try to gain some power over his captors?
7. Once he's free, why doesn't the narrator report his abduction to the police or try harder to convince Brigitte that his story is true? Why doesn't he tell anyone else what happened to him? Does his passivity seem psychologically accurate?
8. After he is released, the narrator's mind fills with "images from the room—the black steeples of the women's hoods, their cloaks swirling around me like unconsciousness itself. . . ." [p. 115]. Earlier, we're told that "when they moved toward him, passing through the sunlight, it was an eerie moment, almost supernatural, like watching ghosts walk through a wall. He felt as though the fabric of the world had been tampered with, which only added to his suspicion that the women were beyond all natural law" [p. 72]. What symbolic value do the women have? To what extent do you think they are projections of the narrator's subconscious? Does this indicate that Thomson wants readers to question whether the women—and therefore the narrator's experiences with them—are real?
9. In trying to find his abductors, the narrator has sex with 162 women in fourteen months. In what ways does he perpetuate the cycle of abuse, even while he is trying to free himself from it? How has he become like the women he is searching for? Is he right when he thinks, "Like vampires, they had turned me into another version of themselves" [p. 199]?
10. One of the women the narrator sleeps with tells him that she was abused by her father but that no one had ever believed her. It suddenly occurs to him that "there were others like me, people who were operating in a fourth dimension, a world that was parallel to this one, a kind of purgatory" [p. 186]. Why does he say that people who've been abused inhabit a "fourth dimension"? Why is it a kind of purgatory? In what ways does the narrator operate in a world that is parallel to but severed from the "real" world?
11. After he is released, the narrator spends three years traveling. What is he trying to achieve by staying in constant motion?
12. Why is the narrator attracted to the story Isabel tells him of Norwegian explorer William Barentz who was stranded on the polar island of Nora Zemba? What does the narrator's intention to create a dance about that story reveal about how art is made? About the way artists use existing stories to tell their own? About the relationship between a historical incident and personal history in a work of art?
13. When the narrator first sleeps with Juliette, he thinks, "In the darkness, naked, she looked so black. Like something I could disappear into" [p. 222]. Where else in the novel does he express this wish to disappear, hide, or dissolve? Why is this such a powerful feeling for him? Why is he so drawn to Juliette? Why does he trust and feel safe with her?
14. The Book of Revelation ends just as the narrator is about to tell his story--the story we have just finished reading—to detective Olsen, who asks him to "go back to the beginning" [p. 260]. Why do you think Thomson has given his narrative this circular form? What is the importance of the narrator finally being able to tell his story? What do think Olsen's response will be? What do you imagine will happen to the narrator from this point on?
15. The novel is preceded by an epigraph from Stefan Hertman: "Will there ever be anything other than the exterior and speculation in store for us? The skin, the surface—it is man's deepest secret." How would you relate this idea to the title of the novel, The Book of Revelation? What connections do you find between the novel and the biblical book of Revelation? How does the novel dramatize the problems of revealing and concealing? How is the narrator's life affected by these opposites? What is concealed from him? What does he conceal and reveal? What does the novel seem to imply about the limits of knowing?
In an edgy psychological thriller that is as mesmerizing as it is profound, Rupert Thomson fearlessly delves into the darkest realm of the human spirit to reveal the sinister connection between sexuality and power.
Stepping out of his Amsterdam studio one April afternoon to buy cigarettes for his girlfriend, a dashing 29-year old Englishman reflects on their wonderful seven-year relationship, and his stellar career as an internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer. But the nameless protagonist's destiny takes an unthinkably horrifying turn when a trio of mysterious cloaked and hooded women kidnap him, chain him to the floor of a stark white room to keep as their sexual prisoner, and subjected him to eighteen days of humiliation, mutilation, and rape. Then, after a bizarrely public performance, he is released, only to be held captive in the purgatory of his own guilt and torment: The realization that no one will believe his strange story. Coolly revelatory, meticulously crafted, The Book of Revelation is Rupert Thomson at his imaginative best.
About the Author
Rupert Thomson is the author of five previous novels — of which Soft!, The Insult, Air & Fire, and The Five Gates of Hell are available in Vintage paperback. He lives in London.
From the Hardcover edition.
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