LOST IN THE TEXTUAL MAZE? CONCEALMENTS AND DOUBLINGS IN PETER STRAUB’S MR. X
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The article explores the textual intricacy and the epistemological uncertainty projected by the 1999 novel of Peter Straub titled Mr. X. Already the title of the novel hints at secrecy, hidden identities, and cryptic messages. Indeed, the novel seems to be conceived as a cryptogram and a kind of literary “Russian doll”. This applies as much to the person of the narrator as to the construction of the narrative, its layers upon layers of secrecy and deception. This cryptic character of the novel is reinforced by the lack of closure and the ambiguity of the ending: “the fog” that shrouds everything as well as “undecipherable signs” that Ned meets along the way serve as a trope that projects the implied reader’s loss of certainty. The sense of being lost in the textual maze is compounded by the abundant instances of doubling and mirroring in the text. This is first observed in the composition of the novel as the dual-level narrative, consisting of the part narrated by Ned, and of the diary of Mr. X, the mysterious figure seen by Ned in his dreams, later revealed to be his father. The two, Ned and Mr. X, in their own peculiar ways act out the same pattern: Ned’s quest to find out the identity of his father is paralleled by his father’s (futile) attempts to confirm his own unearthly origins. However, duality is most powerfully expressed by the motif of doppelganger: Ned, the narrator, in time realizes the existence of his not-entirelyhuman brother, Robert, his “shadow self”, his “dark half”. Finally, even the novel, Mr. X, finds itself reflected in the work of fiction written by Mr. X, a story titled Blue Fire. Blue Fire, introduced at length into the narrative, serves as its specular text, mise en abyme, encapsulating its two central themes, as verbalized by the narrator: “the obsession with the ancestral house” and “the flight from and the pursuit of the Other”.
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