‘We were again on the trail of cannibals’: Consuming Trauma and Frustrating Exoticism in Robert Edric’s The Book of the Heathen
One of the primary functions attributed to the neo-Victorian novel is to retrieve and reconstruct ‘neglected or unheard-of stories of stifled suffering’ (Kohlke and Gutleben, 2010, p. 20), and thus to bring to the foreground disregarded historical injustices. For the reader, however, the neo-Victorian novel holds out the additional promise of an imaginative escape into a new and unfamiliar exotic space and time, posited outside of everyday experience; as Dominick LaCapra attests, ‘[w]hether or not the past is re-enacted or repeated in its precise literality […] one experientially feels as if one were back there reliving the event, and distance between here and there, then and now, collapses’ (2004, p. 119). Robert Edric’s disturbing neo-Victorian novel The Book of the Heathen (2000) initially seems to promise to fulfil both of these functions, charting a descent into depravity and chaos against the historical backdrop of the widespread humanitarian injustices that took place in the context of King Leopold’s Congo in the 1890s. Leopold’s rule saw thousands of Congolese men, women and children exploited as forced labour, the devastating effects of which included extensive maltreatment and ‘decimation on an apocalyptic scale’ (Samolsky, 2011, p. 67).
KeywordsYoung Girl Human Suffering Original Emphasis Graphic Description Tourism Research
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