Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Rat Man of Paris is West’s tenth novel in an impressively large and diverse canon. Critical reaction to the novel was largely favorable, though nearly every critic had some reservations. Unlike so many other writers, however, West continues to surprise and stimulate after having written for many years, and this novel stands as testament to the powers of his enduring and fertile imagination.

West has gained a reputation as a writer of experimental fiction, and while Rat Man of Paris lacks the dramatically experimental structures of Caliban’s Filibuster (1971), which relies on the color spectrum and the world of cinema, and of Gala (1976), which employs astronomy and genetic code patterns, it is anything but a conventional fiction. Perhaps its most significant feature is the narrator, an anonymous, omniscient figure who can slip into the minds of both Poulsifer and Sharli and reveal their most private selves. The emphasis in the novel is clearly upon interior space, and this particular narrator, who glides so effortlessly between the two characters and throughout their world, manages to transform abrupt shifts in thought, time, and space into a seamless, coherent narrative.

In so many of his works—novels, autobiography, and essays—West has emphasized how living is discovery, and certainly Rat Man of Paris is no exception to this belief. The unconventional Rat Man, crazed as he may appear, stands as still another of West’s protagonists who rage against the forces of stultification and ultimately achieve a selfhood of their own.