Donne, an ambitious skipper, leads a multiracial crew up an unnamed river in the rainforest. He is searching for the indigenous people of the forest to exploit as cheap labour on his plantation. But the journey is beset with obstacles, and as the crew progress and their relationships develop, it takes on a more spiritual significance, culminating with the crew and the forest folk finding sanctuary and resolution in the visionary Palace of the Peacock.
Wilson Harris was born in 1921 in the former colony of British Guiana. He was a land surveyor before leaving for England in 1959 to become a full-time writer. His exploration of the dense forests, rivers and vast savannahs of the Guyanese hinterland features prominently in the settings of his fiction. Harris's novels are complex, alluding to diverse mythologies from different cultures, and eschew conventional narration in favour of shifting interwoven voices. His first novel Palace of the Peacock (1960) became the first of The Guyana Quartet, which includes The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The Whole Armour (1962) and The Secret Ladder (1963). He later wrote The Carnival Trilogy (Carnival (1985), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987) and The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990)). His most recent novels are Jonestown (1996), which tells of the mass-suicide of a thousand followers of cult leader Jim Jones; The Dark Jester (2001), his latest semi-autobiographical novel, The Mask of the Beggar (2003), and one of his most accessible novels in decades, The Ghost of Memory (2006). Wilson Harris also writes non-fiction and critical essays and has been awarded honorary doctorates by several universities, including the University of the West Indies (1984) and the University of Liège (2001). He has twice been winner of the Guyana Prize for Literature.
'The trilogy comprises Carnival (1985), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987) and The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990), novels linked by metaphors borrowed from theatre, traditional carnival itself and literary mythology. The characters make Odyssean voyages through time and space, witnessing and re-enacting the calamitous history of mankind, sometimes assuming sacrificial roles in an attempt to save modern civilisation from self-destruction.' Independent on Sunday
'The Four Banks of the River of Space is a kind of quantum Odyssey... in which the association of ideas is not logical but... a 'magical imponderable dreaming'. The dreamer is Anselm, another of Harris's alter egos, like Everyman Masters in Carnival and Robin Redbreast Glass in The Infinite Rehearsal... Together, they represent one of the most remarkable fictional achievements in the modern canon.' Listener
''Doctor Black Marsden', tramp, shaman, and conjurer, is an ambivalent Merlin-figure representing both the hero's personal (and archetypal) shadow, and the creative, magus-like activity of the author himself.' Michael Gilkes, Journal of Commonwealth Literature
'... my many visits to Scotland, and books I have read, have given me the sensation of a tone or inner vibrancy that may be due to the languages (English, Scottish, Gaelic) that are present in the subconscious imagination of sensitive Scots... [These] make for the cross-culturality (not mono-cultural) that came into play in Black Marsden.' Wilson Harris, 2008