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The 27th Kingdom

The 27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas Ellis
3 reviews (1982) (206p)
Man Booker Prize Finalist

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Book Description
Tucked away in secret chambers in London's Chelsea is the exquisitely mannered world of a Russian migr and her smugly precious nephew. Their insular existence is soon to be disturbed by a ghostly apparition in the shape of a young postulant on leave from a convent in Wales. From these strange trappings Alice Thomas Ellis conjures a darkly comic, surprising fable where the everyday and the otherworldly mingle. No writer is more adept at both describing the curtains that decorate our lives and suggesting what's behind them. Review
The 27th Kingdom is as mystical as it is malicious, a dark, surreal comedy about secrecy and self-deception. Chelsea, circa 1954, has its fair share of chatty bohemians, and Dancing Master House is positively overflowing with them. Its principal inhabitants are Aunt Irene, who fancies herself a "patron of the astonishing" and has a great fondness for horsemeat, and her vile nephew. Kyril is annoyingly handsome and has an entirely bad character. When a beautiful, black, and almost entirely silent postulant arrives for a brief stay, she quietly throws a theological spanner into the works--exposing and yet somehow protecting the two, and several other Londoners, from their worldly problems. Valentine doesn't so much need to test her vocation as to quell her miracle-working tendencies. At least according to the Mother Superior of her Welsh convent, who happens to be Aunt Irene's sister. Can this "vivid and alien" being, however, save Aunt Irene from a showdown with the taxman (who may be someone else entirely)? In the meantime, will Kyril manage to seduce her? And will Focus, the house's pillowy Persian, ever get near the rat that's been taunting him? Pleasingly, this pussycat has more insight than most of Ellis's humans, particularly when it comes to Aunt Irene's human kitten:
He'd morosely witnessed Kyril's numberless conquests, comparing him with the neighbourhood's dominant tom, a scratty looking object who stalked Cheyne Row. Focus had been made a eunuch for the sake of the sweetness of the air in Dancing Master House. He was glad, because it enabled him to take a removed and measured view of affairs--human, feline and, indeed, divine.
As she moves among her main characters, and as things go from mad to worse, Ellis constructs a fractured fable of good and evil. Not that she's interested in whacking us over the head. After all, as Aunt Irene's sister puts it: "How the vulgar loved portents, prodigies and the untoward. Only the religious knew how embarrassing they could be--and quite beside the point." This 1982 novel may not be as elegant as some of Ellis's other books. On the other hand, it's hard to resist a knowing, noisy exploration of the perfections of silence and the mysteries of belief. --Kerry Fried

Alice Thomas Ellis Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 1  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 1  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 1 The 27th Kingdom ·  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award


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