Famous Last Words

Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words was not, as I first thought it to be when saw it from among the other books in the second-hand bookstore, about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The novel opens with Hugh Selwyn Mauberley‘s childhood experience of witnessing his own father’s dive to the earth from a hotel roof in Boston. His name is name appropriated from a 1920 collection of poems by Ezra Pound. As the plot unfolds, we are taken to Mauberley’s own final resting place in a hotel room high in the Austrian Alps during the last months of the war. Discovered by soldiers of the Allied armies along with his body – the victim of a chilling murder – are his last words. Etched on the walls is his gripping tale of the intrigues and dangerous schemes involving top Nazi officials, their sympathizers in the British nobility, and other unwitting pawns. But unlike the typical World War II book, the events in Famous Last Words are depicted by someone who sided with Hitler and Mussolini. The protagonist Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is described as a writer who though “once considered to be among the giants of twentieth-century American letters”, spent “an inordinate amount of time with the dissolute aristocracy of faded England and with the morally bankrupt crew that mans the elite but sinking lifeboat of a Fascist-dominated Europe.”

Mauberley’s death under orders of the shadowy cabal he once collaborated with underscores the great tragedy of our times. ■

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