The Virgin of Flames (1 star)

Chris Abani

The Virgin of Flames (Jonathan Cape)


Los Angeles, California. Black is a busy man. By day he collects racist and sexist jokes from toilets for his mural (one from Buckingham Palace via Sharon Osbourne), while being stalked by Archangel Gabriel, and obsessing over transvestite stripper, Sweet Girl. By night he stands atop his spaceship in Iggy the psychic tattooist’s wedding dress, letting devotees believe he is the Virgin Mary.

The Virgin of Flames is so self-consciously edgy, it’s painful. Maybe I’m a cynical conventionalist, but I’m not sold on this cast of self-obsessed artistes, expecting you to be as enamoured of their nonsensical ramblings as they are while they babble on about ‘changing the psychic landscape’ of LA by painting it without the religious buildings. I did learn something: transvestite strippers hide their genitalia through careful manipulation and strategically placed surgical tape. Should you want to know how it feels, Black’s ‘bliss, breathlessness and the onset of terror’ probably covers most eventualities.

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