Jag drog mig plötsligt till minnes att jag skrev några texter i Keelersällskapets tidning i tidens gryning (det vill säga under sent nittiotal). Jag letade upp min recension av The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro i Keeler News decembernummer 1997 och upptäckte att jag faktiskt inte skäms alls för den. Den går visserligen — i likhet med alla andra nummer av Keeler News — att ladda ner som PDF här men jag väljer ändå att göra den tillgänglig här på bloggen för en andlöst förväntansfull läsekrets:
The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro (Dutton, 1929)
It is slightly frustrating to write about a Keeler novel without giving away the plot, as the novels consist of precious little but plot. But I’ll try my darndest. The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro is fortunately not one of Keeler’s more plot-riddled efforts. Compared to many offerings from the Mad Wizard of Windy City, this reads almost like a straightforward action yarn. It isn’t every day that you come across sentences like, ”He threw out one of his fists with a mighty impact and joyfully felt it collide with the nearest jaw” in your Keeler. And the almost obligatory fifty-to-hundred pages where people sit in armchairs and spit seemingly irrelevant strands of plot at each other is here at the outset of the novel, which makes for smoother sailing later on.
But those are not the only things that are unusual about this Keeler. I speak, of course, from limited experience, having read only a baker’s dozen Keeler novels (and we’re talking about a baker who is having serious problems with his sums here), but having read summaries of others I will hazard a guess that this is the most realistic novel Keeler ever wrote.
To state why, I have to come perilously close to giving away crucial plot information, but, as they say, there’s more where that came from.
The whole concept of the web-work novel would seem to be slightly, well … er … paranoid, as it is only in the world of a paranoiac that everything makes sense and everything interconnects, or, even more specifically, everything interconnects with the life of the protagonist. In this novel Harry joyfully accepts, and even revels in, the paranoid nature of his aesthetics. The key line in the whole book is: ”I’m not — not — not a paranoiac. The whole thing is a plot against me, I tell you.”
The villain of this novel, resourceful, labyrinthine and moving in mysterious ways like all Keeler villains, has set out to make it appear that the protagonist is paranoid. Thus, the more far-fetched, bizarre, and, well, just plain Keeleresque his plot is, the madder the hero will look when he tries to explain to the doctors of the asylum what has happened to him. In this way the very weirdness of the Keeler plot makes it work better within the framework of the novel. This is ingenious enough, and almost reads like Keeler poking fun at himself (as I have an inkling that he is). But the really fascinating part of the novel is the one hundred and fifty pages that take place inside the asylum. Its name has a familiar ring to the Keeler aficionado — it is Birkdale, the place in which Keeler celebrated his twenty-first and twenty-second birthdays. And as soon as our hero steps inside the gates of this institution, an icy breeze of realism wafts through the pages. I have never read anything as scary, or gripping, in a Keeler novel as the passage where four attendants sit on the hero while an intern sticks a needle into his back to extract spinal fluid. This must have happened to Harry, and he writes about it with greater passion, and presence, than one thought him capable of. The same goes for the rest of his harrowing portrait of nineteenth-century-style mental care — ludicrous mental tests, which Keeler takes obvious pleasure in deconstructing, everyday life in the ward, etc. One starts wondering how many of the people he encountered in Birkdale turned up as characters in his novels — only to stumble across a night attendant whose name has a familiar ring: Gorilla Svenson (he is a more than customarily neanderthaloid Swodock, it seems).
Needless to say, the hero eventually gets out of Birkdale and everything returns to unnormal; he is free and can breathe the refreshing air of a world replete with freak wills that try to make him wear blue, unwieldy eighteenthcentury spectacles for a year, mysterious women who throw acid at him for no apparent reason at all, etcetera. He can heave a sigh of relief.
Maybe this novel has a special place in the Keeler canon, dealing as it does in a more direct fashion with the tragedy of his youth. I have my books arranged alphabetically, and this one fits rather snugly between Kafka’s The Trial and Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Tragedin jag nämner ovan är att Keelers mamma fick honom tvångsintagen på mentalsjukhus under ett par år, annars har jag inte så mycket att tillägga — annat än att Keeler verkligen lever upp till reklamtexten för The Amazing Web här ovan — hans deckare är verkligen mysteries that mystify …