Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The most immediately apparent feature of the novel is its rich verbal play; this truly is a book of words, a novel that exuberantly celebrates language in all of its extravagance. As Paul West himself notes in an interview appended to the book, “the whole thing is a word game. It’s a filibuster—it’s a Caliban’s filibuster.” With near-Joycean gusto, West weaves an intricate (and at times pretentious) web of anagrams, anonyms, puns, malapropisms, acronyms, rhymes, and alphabet games. All these devices result in an extraordinarily densely textured narrative which often dispenses with action altogether in favor of extended badinage.

The vehicle for accomplishing all this and for placing emphasis on language itself is the narrator’s mind—his wandering, fertile, and troubled imagination. Once again, West’s comments help establish a context for this practice:What interests me most of all, it’s obvious I suppose, is the elasticity of consciousness counterpointed by the as-is-ness of nature. An old duo, I know; and a poor thing, maybe, but just about the only one we have. And Caliban’s Filibuster comes out of this abiding concern; it’s a permutation of states of mind.

The world for Cal is depressing and fixed; the world of his imagination, however, is unbounded and completely free.

As the novel demonstrates, Cal’s greatest problem is his pervasive feeling of being trapped; in fact, throughout the novel the reader...

(The entire section is 465 words.)