A Bit Too Much Of The Old

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A Bit Too Much Of The Old ‘opiate Music’ Essay, Research Paper A bit too much of the old ‘opiate music’The Mariner’s Star by Candida Clark 244pp, #163;10 The narrator-heroine of Candida Clark’s new novel is the wife of a fisherman who has been drowned at sea. Setting out alone in his old boat, grief-stricken and contemplating suicide, she reflects on their passionate love and life together. She remembers how, when they first met, she felt his face “shining Phoebus-bright above me, certain to dazzle me or be Medusa-ish, perhaps, and set my heart in stone forever after looking there”, and how his voice was “an opiate music I could forever stay succumbed to”, and how their love felt like a “fantastical pearly-gated playground for our hearts to be forever

childed in”. And how, when he returned to sea she always felt, “cast out and needful of the Edened place we were before”. And how great the sex was – “all ripe and wanting union, gloating after the honey-bee’s dart and slippery drip of pollination”. Now, you’re wondering, why all the fancy, ancient language? It must, surely, be a period piece? No. Though Clark sets it firmly in Nowhereville, there are clues – mentions of cars, chip shops – that rule out the olden days. So what exactly is she trying to do with this oddly purple prose which at times (well, OK, often) reads like a weird parody of itself? I have absolutely no idea, but she keeps it up. As an exercise in over-the-top, pseudo-biblical verbosity, it’s flawless. Though the occasional, uninhibitedly

sharp little phrase – “in the sneak of my childhood night”, or “the air is peppery, vivid with strings of scent” – hints at what Clark might be capable of, those moments are few. Far more of the novel’s relentless portentousness makes you want to giggle. When the fisherman husband reaches what has to be orgasm and is “tightly magnetised against my flesh and powerless in the face of a vast compulsion that he must tussle with”, it really is hard to keep a straight face. All right, but could I be wrong? Does all of this tussling and drippy pollination stuff carry a potency I’m missing? Is there a case to be made for telling this tale in such overwrought language? I swear I struggled to keep an open mind, but in the end, surely, it boils down to this: in order to

earn their place on the page, words must work – they have to do something. And most of these don’t. So, when Clark has her heroine say: “We have no lights on within the house”, I want to ask her why. Why “within”? Why – given these are modern, chip-shop times – not good old “in”? I simply can’t see what we gain by the more laborious “within”. Clark is an interesting and imaginative novelist, and far too few of today’s fiction writers take risks with form or style – and failure is the price you sometimes pay for daring. So it’s disappointing that here, everything she’s exploring – loss, love and physical danger – is only diminished by over-complication. The frilly phrases only serve to push you, the reader, away from what you might have been

feeling.· Julie Myerson’s most recent novel is Laura Blundy (Fourth Estate)