Charles Palliser, an American long resident in Britain, is an interesting writer with a gift for pastiche. But that description doesn't do him full justice, because he has a considerable literary range as well as talent. This is well illustrated by Betrayals, a book published twenty-five years ago with more than a touch of Borges about it. It's much less well-known than his debut, Quincunx (which I'm hoping to read soon) but I found it very interesting.
The book is divided into ten sections. The first and last are extracts from a newspaper, the Daily Scot, an obituary and a review respectively. The former is a malicious piece of work, about a late Glaswegian professor called William Henry Dugdale. It refers to a number of mysterious incidents, and these allusive touches set a pattern for the book.
The next section, 'The Wrong Tracks', is particularly enjoyable. It's a collection of three stories, each told by passengers from a stranded train. It soon becomes clear that there are connecting themes, in particular about types of betrayal, and these connections continue throughout the narratives that follow. These are highly varied, and even include a parody of the then hugely popular Scottish TV series Taggart. I enjoyed Palliser's wit very much, even though I felt that particular section of the story was expanded beyond its natural length.
That said, the book doesn't, in the end, hang together quite as well as I'd hoped. There are various deliberate infelicities in the texts, and I'd anticipated a satisfying explanation for them; if one was provided, I missed it. I certainly got the impression that Palliser was paying off a few personal scores, and the book does not ultimately prove to be quite as tightly structured as it might have been, all the connections and repeated themes in the different sections of the story notwithstanding. So I can't claim that Betrayals is entirely successful, because to some extent I felt it fizzled out. But there's plenty of entertainment along the way. And plenty of ingenuity too.