A Review of Phosphor in Dreamland,
by Rikki Ducornet
Originally published January 25th, 1996,
in The Minnesota Daily’s A&E Magazine
By Rikki Ducornet
Dalkey Archive, $12.95
For those of us who can’t get enough magical realism in our lives comes Rikki Ducornet’s outrageous Phosphor in Dreamland. Truly a renaissance woman, Ducornet has written novels, stories, poetry, children’s books, and has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges and Robert Coover. With this new volume, Ducornet has drawn equally from her immense reservoirs of talent to craft a new kind of creature.
Set in the mythic Caribbean island Birdland (a not-too-distant cousin to Vonnegut’s San Lorenzo and Nabokov’s Zembla), this epistolary novel chronicles the life of a seventeenth-century poet/inventor/artist named Phosphor. Written by a current inhabitant to his friend in another slightly less mythic land, this series of letters is both a study of the island’s history and an ardent examination of human connection through time. Having the narrator fall in love as he sifts through the island’s evidence is an example of this kind of connectedness, a metaphor for the affinities of history.
One of his inventions is a mock-up of a camera obscura that can reproduce reality so clearly that Fantasma, the local tyrant, decides to use it to capture the entire island for his personal collection. This leads Phosphor to unwittingly comply with pornographers and, even worse, the ancestors of TV producers.
As wonderful as this novel is, it does take some time to really get rolling, so give it a few pages to catch your attention. Phosphor in Dreamland is one of those books that builds until it’s virtually bursting, and with Ducornet’s richly crafted prose and considerable intellectual and techical skills, this novel can barely contain its teeming cargo.