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John Barth: The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor

Simon William Behler (aka Baylor), journalist, is nominally the hero but in reality there are two other heroes – Sheherazade and Sinbad the Sailor, from Barth’s favorite work, Alf Layla wa Layla, better known in English as The Thousand and One Nights. Behler/Baylor, of course, grew up in Eastern Maryland, taught, had a failed marriage, sailed, all just like the author. Indeed, he even had a female twin, like Barth, but, unlike Barth’s sister, Behler/Baylor’s drowned on the way out of the womb, for which he still feels guilt, though he has a substitute for her in the form of Bijou, his imaginary friend. The book tells of seven voyages made by Behler/Baylor (both literal and figurative voyages), which recount his life and, this being Barth, sexual adventures. And, this being Barth, Behler/Baylor slips out of North America and into medieval Baghdad where he does what his predecessor does – tells stories. For the voyages of Behler/Baylor are interspersed with”interludes”, in which Sheherazade, Sinbad and co. take over and where Barth has an excuse to do what he really like best – telling tales of monsters, epic voyages, heroes and villains, in true post-modern fashion, with literary and linguistic games, tricks and intrigues and all the usual artifices we have come to know and love in Barth. But it doesn’t really work. Barth is getting tired. His style is getting tired. And we are getting tired of it, too.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Little, Brown