East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


O’Neill’s Scheherazade

n320056I’ve a thing for the Arabian Nights.
I’ve collected different editions, read essays on the subject, discussed it with friends until I scared them off or bored them to death.
So yes, now it’s your turn.

As one of the founding texts of fantasy, the Arabian Nights have been to me a source of endless discovery and fascination.

Now, I’ve found another piece of this personal puzzle of mine in Anthony O’Neill’s Scheherazade, a novel published in 2002 which is a sequel of sorts to the classic tales.
And much more.

The cover blurb says it all

It is nearly twenty years since Scheherazade spun her tales for a thousand and one nights; the tales that saved her life and immortalised the city that she had never seen — until now. Scheherazade and her husband, King Shahriyar, arrive in Baghdad to a rapturous welcome from the Caliph and his people, but within hours the Queen is kidnapped from her bathhouse, and disappears. An ancient prophecy leads the Caliph to despatch a motley crew of sailors on a rescue mission. As the seven unlikely saviours venture deeper into the unforgiving desert, losing camels, supplies, and all sense of direction, Scheherazade must face her abductors alone. And once again she begins to spin a tale to save her life…

But it’s much more complicated than that – and therefore, to me, much more satisfactory.

Scheherazade is not just a fantasy and an adventure story, and it’s more than a literate and literary game.
It’s a book about how stories change not only those that read or listen to them, but also those that tell or write them – which is a subject very dear to me in this moment.
By being writers, by being storytellers, we write ourselves, we narrate our own existance.
And by doing so, we can make ourselves better – or let our stories make us different.
Anthony O’Neill’s book brings that idea to its extreme consequences – and it is both a fantasy and a historical novel, a comedy and a tragedy, a phylosophical novel and a sexy romp, a tale of friendship, betraial and sailors away from the sea.

Scheherazade is a good, complex read, filled with characters and stories.
It starts low and grows slowly, but there’s nothing out of place in its pages.

A novel I’ll have to re-read once in a while, as it does promise new discoveries.

PS – I have to thank my friend Marco Siena, of Vanishing in the Mist, for suggesting me this great book in the first place.
Grazie, Marco!