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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ghost of Chance

William S. Burroughs

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To purchase Ghost of Chance

Title: Ghost of Chance
Author: William S. Burroughs
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991
Length: 58 pages
Availability: Ghost of Chance - US
Ghost of Chance - UK
Ghost of Chance - Canada
L'Ombre d'une chance - France
Ghost of Chance - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B- : some wild ideas, some decent adventures, but too unfocussed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ F 4/12/2003 Joachim Kalka
The Guardian . 11/8/1995 Will Self
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 2/12/2003 Florian Vetsch
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/1996 David Seed
TLS . 15/11/2002 Isobel Shirlaw

  From the Reviews:
  • "Doch dieses Werk ist nur ein schwacher Schatten von Burroughs' klassischen Texte der Subversion. (...) Das tut allerdings, man muß es sagen, wenig zur Sache bei einem in sich so unbedeutenden Buch, das kaum ein fernes Echo von der provozierenden Kraft des früheren Burroughs besitzt. Das senile Murren und Räuspern, das Auskramen alter Zwangsvorstellungen, das giftige, das dumme, das banale Geschwätz, die hysterische Sektenpredigt -- all dies ist, als Mittel der Literatur, oft großartig eingesetzt worden (...). Hier jedoch erscheint es nicht als Strategie, als literarische Form, sondern als kunstlose, bare Albernheit." - Joachim Kalka, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "While Burroughs may claim that this scenario has a basis in historical fact, it is clear early on that the generative force for the narrative (such as it is) comes from the author's own preoccupations with global environmental catastrophe." - Will Self, The Guardian

  • "Burroughs' trickreich mit Synchronien arbeitende Prosa legt neben der ökologischen auch eine hellsichtig wahrgenommene politische Dimension frei. Mit Ghost of Chance ist Burroughs jedenfalls ein brandaktuelles, wundersam komponiertes Alterswerk gelungen, ein verwuchert glühendes Plädoyer für die Formenvielfalt der Natur." - Florian Vetsch, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "After all his speculations on a wordless world and the loss of dissent to logocentrism, it is rather ironic that Burroughs should authenticate Ghost of Chance in an afterword where he describes his main historical source." - David Seed, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "There are funny moments. More often Ghost of Chance is alienating. Burroughs seeks to retrieve the irrevocable, the futility of which leaves the novella with a sadness bordering on elegy." - Isobel Shirlaw, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ghost of Chance is a slim little volume, first published in a limited edition in 1991 (for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York), and then republished by Serpent's Tail in 1995. It is a very short book -- with quite a bit of the little space taken up by the author's own artwork -- but Burroughs still tries to cram in a lot.
       Much of the story is set in Madagascar, which -- so Burroughs -- has "lain moored in enchanted calm for sixty million years." Enchanted calm, that is, until Mission and his fellow Europeans come aboard. Captain Mission is apparently an historic figure, as Burroughs explains in his afterword, but little enough is known about him so that Burroughs can mold him quite easily to his own ends. Not that one really thinks Burroughs would have compunctions in this regard regardless of the people he presents in his fiction, but even Mission's first name is "lost to history", so he is an ideal figure to use.
       Madagascar is -- or certainly was -- an interesting place because of being so cut off from the world. A huge variety of species unknown elsewhere thrived here. But once "civilization" came things took a turn for the worse. And this is, in large part, the subject of Burroughs' novel. Yes, it is concerned with issues of environment and ecology. Burroughs as eco-novelist.
       But Burroughs does put his usual distinctive (or, often, indistinct) spin on things. There is the spread of disease -- by the very diseased Mission. Not just word-viruses, but the good, old-fashioned kind. And a few new ones too: in one of his inspired riffs, Burroughs goes on about the terrible Christ Sickness ("those who die are as nothing compared with the survivors"), where people manage to literally love their enemies to death.
       There are a variety of story line: some almost straightforward Madagascaran adventures around Mission (and around lemurs !), and a variety of more unusual episodes (usually dealing with disease). There are a lot of ideas here, but relatively little elaboration. It is more than just a rant -- there is a great deal of invention, there are real stories (or at least episodes) here -- but there is a lack of focus as the ... tale, if one can call it that, spins quite beyond control.
       Burroughs addresses serious issues, in part very evocatively -- but he goes over the top quite frequently. Attributing scientific hypotheses to people with names such as "Professor Unruh von Unerhört" might just pass, but to have these then speak, for example, of a "hideous flaw in ze origin of mankind" just seems too sophomoric.

       An odd little book, with some tantalizingly good and clever bits, but ultimately too little of everything.

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Reviews: William S. Burroughs: Other books by William Burroughs under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction at the complete review
  • See Index of the most unusual books under review

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About the Author:

       William Seward Burroughs II was born 5 February 1914 and died 2 August 1997. He is the author of such noted works as Junky and Naked Lunch and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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