Rates of Exchange Summary
by Malcolm Bradbury

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Rates of Exchange Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Angus Petworth arrives in the city of Slaka, the capital of the novel’s anonymous and imaginary Eastern European country, to deliver a series of lectures on linguistics for the British Council. In going from London to Slaka, however, Petworth has traveled more than a merely geographical distance. He has also gone from a capitalist to a Socialist society, from the known to the unfamiliar, from domestic limitations to amorous possibilities, and from realism to fabulation. Although ostensibly in the country “to perform utterance,” Petworth is nevertheless also in search of something much less prosaic, yet as an adventurer of sorts and a would-be romantic, he is singularly ill-equipped to fulfill this or any other larger mission, being as he is easily confused and entirely ignorant of Slakan language and customs. Once in Slaka, he quickly comes under the influence of no fewer than four guides.

There is his official guide, Marisja Lubijova, whose heavy-sounding name fits her pragmatic acceptance of what life in a Socialist country demands of her. Then there is Professor Plitplov, a caricature of obsequiousness and conspicuous self-effacement who claims to be the one responsible for arranging Petworth’s visit (why he may have arranged it is even less certain) and who hints at some perhaps sexual connection with Petworth’s wife, Lottie (a hint that may amount to nothing more than Plitplov’s inability to express himself adequately in English). There is also Steadiman, whose warnings concerning the entrapment of Westerners by the secret police and their female operatives hangs heavily over all that Petworth does (or does not do) and over the reader as he moves through Bradbury’s novel. Finally, there is the beautiful magic realist novelist, Katya Princip, with whom Petworth has a brief affair and who offers Petworth not only love (however momentary) but also an alternative both to socialism and to his own Western fecklessness and passivity, a way that is dissident, imaginative, postmodern, yet decidedly pragmatic.

Against the caution that...

(The entire section is 504 words.)