Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Waiting Room

Waiting Room. Facetious name that the wealthy Greek-English philosopher Maurice Conchis gives to his villa, where the novel’s narrator, Nicholas Urfe, finds himself the subject—or perhaps victim—of a series of shifting realities orchestrated by Conchis. At first the experiments seem like a strange game, but it is one that eventually comes to have a more sinister cast. The isolation of the villa is emphasized in several ways. It is on the southern tip of the island of Phraxos, with no other human habitation anywhere near. It is surrounded by barbed wire, left over from World War II, it has its own private beach, and only its rooftop is visible from the forest outside the estate.

The character of the villa itself seems to change as the nature of Conchis’s experiments on Urfe change; at times the novel emphasizes the richness of the villa’s furnishings, which include original paintings by Amedeo Modigliani and Pierre Bonnard. At other times, the novel focuses on the plainness and simplicity of the villa’s fittings. Readers quickly understand that the Waiting Room—whose name comes from a salle d’attente sign from a French railway station, left behind by German occupation troops after the war—is a stage set whose different features are emphasized depending on each new mystery that is played out there.

The appearance of attractive English twins, June and Julia, turns the villa into a place of sexual attraction, even though their roles within Conchis’s ever-shifting drama make it difficult to get the measure of them. The villa is a place...

(The entire section is 662 words.)