You know, only the other day I was thinking to myself that it’s been far too long since I last read anything by Jim Crace.
Here’s a review that appeared in The Third Alternative #38, minus the editorial corrections if there were any:-
SIX: JIM CRACE
Penguin Books pb, 224pp, £7.99
Crace’s latest novel, like several of its predecessors, has an unusual structure. The hero is Felix Dern, an inhabitant of a never named city in a never named country, but one suspects East European. Lix is a famous actor, celebrity affording him leeway in a nation where martial law is more often the rule than not. His defining characteristic is that he is incredibly fertile; every woman he has unprotected sex with falls pregnant immediately.
The novel opens with Lix and his wife Mouetta forced to spend the night in a park as a result of civil unrest, giving us an act of intimacy that results in pregnancy and then relating the aftermath. From that point we backtrack, reprising the sex acts that brought Lix’s previous five children into the world. Casual copulation as a student with a woman he never sees again. The month long affair with radical Freda, Mouetta’s cousin, with Lix trying to impress her with his politics, and the child he is told never to have anything to do with, at least until it suits Freda. Two pregnancies with Alicja, the first taking place against the backdrop of a flooded city and when their love was new and the second an act of guilt on her part, hastening the breakdown of their marriage, as Alicja’s career in politics takes off. Finally we have another one night stand, this time with a famous actress, Lix’s co-star in a play, set against the backdrop of the new Millennium, and Freda turning up to introduce Lix to his son George, but also bringing her cousin Mouetta, and it is her Lix is truly interested in.
The novel is an exercise in style, as we have come to expect from Crace, with words of beauty and power on every page, the whole littered with subtle turns of phrase and potent images that strike at the very heart of what life is all about. And if that was all this book had to offer it would be enough, but there is far more. Deftly interweaving events to illuminate each happening from several different angles, Crace’s narrative structure enables the unveiling of a character, that of Lix himself seen at various stages of his life, who is wonderfully human and believable, as full of virtues and faults, foibles and self-doubt as any man, and whose actions resonate powerfully with the reader. Set against that there is a brief history of the country in which he lives, a document of the times that shows how political events influence human actions and vice versa. Crace has the rare ability to get deep beneath the skin of his characters and show what makes them tick, the action in his story arising out of a conflation of global events and tiny, almost intimate, misunderstandings. It is a unique and striking work of fiction, and a formidable addition to this writer’s oeuvre. I loved it.