In 1815, Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean. In May of 1821 he died there. Black Rock is the story of the days following the death of Napoleon, told by Napoleon’s ghost. He watches his own autopsy, marveling at his layers of fat, curious about the disagreement between the English doctors and his own physician, Antommarchi, over whether his liver was enlarged or not. The ghost is surprised at the reading of his will that his son and wife were not mentioned. Did he forget them when he rewrote the document, burning with fever, or has someone meddled with his will? Napoleon’s ghost discovers that the men who stayed by his side until the end – Montholon, Gourgaud, Marchand, and Bertrand – are not the loyal, obsequious men he thought them to be. In fact, he starts to believe that one of them may have murdered him.
Black Rock is a slow-moving, detailed look at the days between Napoleon’s death and the departure of the emperor’s entourage from their island prison. Napoleon’s ghost is an arrogant, unlikeable narrator, and the other characters are not much more appealing. The pace of the story picks up when the idea of arsenic poisoning is revealed. The eventual exhumation of Napoleon’s body, narrated by the son of Bertrand, along with the author’s historical notes, helps to explain the curiosity of Napoleon’s death. For me, this made the ending of the book quite satisfying.