The Portals of Paradise, by Brian Stableford. Wildside Press 2016.
Review by Sally Startup
A playful novel, narrated by Gabriel, an aspiring playwright on his Grand Tour. Having already spent some time in Paris, where he attended many plays and also fell in love, he has recently arrived in Venice. It is the mid Eighteenth-century, at the time of Carnival, only ten years before the festivities will be abolished under Austrian rule. Gabriel is especially interested in the commedia dell’arte, and also admires Carlo Goldoni, Carlo Gozzi and Molière.
Not long after arriving in Venice, Gabriel stumbles, quite literally, on the Devil. The young man is kind to the Devil, who appears to have fallen. The Devil is grateful and offers to return the favour with an invitation to a play. Some time later, after the entanglement of various strands of narrative, it becomes clear that this particular play has great significance to those characters in search of ‘the portals of paradise’.
Having initially perceived Venice as decadent and dispiriting, Gabriel is slowly drawn into a more lively appreciation of its layered complexity. Gradually, his role as detached observer develops into that of a player. However, he has no idea which of the plots slowly revealed to him are the most truthful.
Since the story is told in the form of a novel, Gabriel’s own inner thoughts can be reported at length. As he puzzles over what happens to him, readers may also play imaginatively with ideas of their own. Such activity will remake the story differently for every reader, layering personal interpretations over Gabriel’s narrated thoughts and his retrospective descriptions of events. Characters, narrator, author and reader are all most skilfully encouraged to play together.