The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

An intellectual’s hidden persona

Noel Grima Thursday, 16 September 2021, 13:19 Last update: about 29 days ago

‘The Other Face’. Author: Gorg Peresso. Translated: Irene Mangion. Published: Horizons / 2021. Pages: 162pp

Mahler, Klimt, Kokoschka. Or rather Gustav Mahler, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. One composer and two artists.

Together they form the universe of the protagonist of this book, a famous art critic. He wakes up to snatches from Mahler's symphonies and he sees the world around him in terms of the two Mittel-European artists.

He drinks in not just their world-famous canvasses but also details of their lives. He knows, for instance, that Kokoschka was insanely in love with Alma Mahler, the wife of the composer and, when she finally left him, held a macabre decapitation ceremony with a dummy dressed like her.

Outwardly, he is a reserved, almost cold person, shunned by his friends and left to his own devices. It is on one of the outings of the group that he meets her and even she, at the beginning, treats him as his friends do.

Then they get to meet more and on their own. He introduces her to Klimt and Kokoschka and she reveals to him she is in love with luxury and beauty and that she is engaged to be married to a very wealthy man who is expected to keep her in a life of luxury.

He is invited to the wedding but he does not go, since he has to speak at a conference on his pet subject. At the conference he feels sick and collapses. He is diagnosed with a literary symptom - Stendhal's syndrome from when the French novelist was touring Florence's Santa Croce and got so carried away with so many literary references that he lost all sense of space and time.

Then, years later, he finds out that her husband has died, and perhaps unwisely, he goes to the funeral, but leaves midway through the rite, not before realising she had noticed his presence.

Years later, 15 years later, while working on a book on the history of art, he becomes influenced by Rembrandt's series of self-portraits and he starts feeling he has been endowed with another face, not his usual austere one, the one the woman hates, but another face, the one of a young man, which is more than acceptable to the woman.

This is what leads to the book's final drama.

The book's original, in the Maltese language, Il-Wicc l-Iehor, was published in 2020.


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