Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Friday, 4 December 2009

"It's beginning to Hurt" by James Lasdun (Jonathan Cape, 2009)

The stories are about 15 pages long except for the commissioned one which is 2 pages long.

I think I'm going off him. His writing's more telly now, more wordy. In the title story a man comes out of a worrying medical test with a clean bill of health. Suddenly the argument with his sister about their inherited house feels so petty - "He had a life - in every sense! - whereas Ellen had nothing. If it meant so much to her to go on living in the family home, then let her. Let her! The decision further boosted his sense of euphoria." He phones his sister, who's less than impressed that he's not going to evict her, that he doesn't after all have a lymphoma. The penultimate paragraph is "But all the earlier expansiveness had gone from him; in its place a drab, ashen sensation, as if the bitterness of the sister's dismal existence had flowed into him through the phone."

Dilemmas are set up, spelt out and openly debated. Revelations are revealed - "The full extent and depth of the man's wheedling, coercive personality seemed to have suddenly disclosed itself. like some strange creature opening unsuspected wings" (p.79). "The thought of this attractive, intelligent woman whom nature had clearly designed for a life of luxury and ease, living under such circumstances, had awakened a protective instinct in him, while her lack of self-pity filled him with admiration." (p.89)

When he has a good image he milks is - "The number that had been growing so rapidly in the Total Gain column, putting out a third, a fourth, then a fifth figure, like a ship unfurling sails in the great wind of prosperity that had seemed set to blow once again across America, had slowed to a halt, lowered its sails one by one, and then, terrifyingly, had begun to sink" (p.7).

Several of the stories involved encounters across a desk and/or affairs between people whose ages differ a lot. "The Old Man" and "Lime Pickle" end well but take a while to get there. "Annals of the Honorary Secretary" mixes stranger material with believably described social nuances. I liked "Caterpillars" - more "show" I suppose.

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