Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470
Part of the fun of this elegant, truly humorous, yet serious book is viewing how Perian rejects the notion of change while he imperceptibly inches toward it. Brian Aldiss enables the reader to identify with this antiheroic hero and thus empathize with his richly endowed amalgam of art and life. Once obdurately opposed to change of any kind, in the end Perian comes to accept its necessity. Although change might mean the destruction of the society he has known throughout his life, he is willing to face whatever it might bring—war, the destruction of his ordered society, or the vast unknown outside the circumscribed walls of Malacia. He even considers joining an underground organization dedicated to bringing about change.
The identity of the artist who created the art piece that is the embalmed Malacian society becomes one of Aldiss’ most intriguing questions. Readers learn in the novel that God, the ostensible creator of the universe, is the intruder into this society and that Malacia is, in point of fact, the creation of the Adversary, Satan. Aldiss thus raises the age-old Manichean problem of whether evil can indeed be creative. As if to illustrate that, unconsciously, the people of the city realize—and perhaps unconsciously reject—their “diabolic” background, in Malacia the Ancestral Beings are reptilian. Indeed, citizens, with great irony on Aldiss’ part, often go on hunts for them in the Juracia, a primitive forest directly outside the city. Although Aldiss does not directly raise the question of whether the killing of the ancestors represents some sort of unconscious self-destructive urge on the part of the Malacians, the fact that the city is slowly dying, choked by its own stasis and entropy, is nevertheless heightened by the hunts.
Almost every character in the novel is an artist of some sort. One of them, the masterful artist Nicholas Fatember, may be Aldiss’ portrait of the artist as an old wise man. He says, almost in summary of the relationship between art and life that lies at the heart of this remarkable novel, “Outside, beyond these walls of mould and mouse-fart, stands the great burning world of triumphs and nobilities . . . only by art, only through painting, can one master that burning world and its secrets! Seeing is not enough—we do not see until we have copied, until we have transcribed everything . . . especially the divine light in all its variety, without which there is nothing.”
The Malacia Tapestry is a rich novel, at once highly imaginative, inventive, and rewarding. Its appeal lies in part in the unfamiliar background of the story, for this is a fantasy creation that seems far more real than most. Further appeal is found in the vividness of Aldiss’ language, its complex yet eminently readable style, and the care with which Aldiss infuses his creation with art.