Review

Palladio

by Jonathan Dee



In PALLADIO, Jonathan Dee's cynical new novel, the author suggests
that our culture is too informed by a conflagration of media
messages and keen images that, despite their banality, are designed
to influence our tastes and shape our values. He uses consumerism
and the advertising industry as a backdrop for examining what he
perceives as our 'all-dysfunctional' culture. To make his points,
he has given us an eccentric and interesting cast of characters who
truly are 'characters.'

Molly Howe is an enigmatic teenager with all the makings of a femme
fatale. She is a beautiful, smart girl but has no conception of how
cause and effect connect to her actions or the impact they have in
the lives of others. She is perfectly blasé about her affair
with a married man and, when they are caught, she cannot comprehend
why she is banished from her home and forced to leave her
provincial hometown of Ulster, New York.

She makes her way to Berkley, California, where her older brother
lives a communal life among a group of religious fanatics, of which
he is the guru. They take her in, give her shelter and food, and
leave her on her own. Occasionally, she sneaks into a class to
watch a film or hear a lecture that interests her. No one seems to
notice her or questions her right to be there, until she meets a
young art student named John Wheelwright. They fall in love, set up
housekeeping together, and for all practical purposes appear to be
on the road to a blissful life together. Then Molly
disappears.

Fast-forward 10 years. John has a successful career in New York as
a commercial artist at one of the world's largest cutting edge
advertising firms. He has a girlfriend, an apartment, friends, and
an appealing life. Then one day he meets the successful and
iconoclastic Mal Osbourne, who has decided to revolutionize their
medium: "Our culture propagates no values outside of the peculiar
sort of self-negation implied in the wry smile of irony, the way we
remove ourselves from ourselves in order to be insulated from the
terrible emptiness of the way we live now. That wry smile mocks
self-knowledge, mocks the idea of right and wrong and mocks the
notion that art is worth making at all. We will create advertising,
and that advertising will be paid for by clients: but the
advertising will be unlike anything the world has ever seen
before."

He explains that he is creating a new kind of company to be housed
in an ante-bellum mansion called Palladio, in Charlottesville,
Virginia. His final pitch convinces John that this is an
opportunity he can't resist --- "The language of advertising is the
language of American life: American art, American politics,
American media, American law, American business. By changing that
language, we will, perforce, change the world." Everything works
out better than expected and after few years Palladio becomes the
most prestigious advertising agency in the world.

Then, like an old nightmare from the nether realms, Molly
reappears. She is as elusive as ever, but despite her idiosyncratic
personality, Osbourne falls in love with her, installs her in his
private living quarters, and from that point on Palladio is
doomed.

Dee has given us a riveting story and raises issues to provoke
readers into rethinking some of the most familiar messages and
images that bombard us every day. With a deft hand and a visionary
spirit he calls into question the way consumerism shapes our lives
and the world in which we live. He doesn't solve any problems but
he asks the right questions, and that too is important.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011

Palladio
by Jonathan Dee

  • Publication Date: January 15, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 038550179X
  • ISBN-13: 9780385501798