Release date: 11/01/2003
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The protean British writer, whose time and place settings have ranged from the Stone Age (The Gift of Stones) and 40 days in the Judean desert (Quarantine) to the past lives of two decomposing bodies in present-day England (Being Dead), here creates a world very much like ours but different in subtle ways calculated to unnerve the reader. The protagonist is an actor named Felix Dern, aka Lix, and the unnamed country in which he lives is a menacing place. The army and police have put down bank riots and quashed a popular uprising; the ancient medieval city, once called the City of Kisses, is zoned, with restrictions on travel. Yet Lix lives a charmed life. Despite the innate caution—approaching timidity—of his personality, he's had a brilliant career. Now middle-aged and embarked on his second marriage, he's drawn into a dangerous revolutionary plot by a former lover, the mother of one of his children. Lix's most vexing problem, revealed in the book's first sentence, is fecundity: "Every woman he dares to sleep with bears his child." The book's chapters are numbered from one to six to designate Lix's children, some of whom are unknown to him. Sex pervades his thoughts and the narrative, as Lix ruminates about sexual desire and infidelity. Mirroring his protagonist's detached personality, Crace's tone throughout is cool and nonjudgmental. His characters' foibles elicit witty aphorisms: "Chatter is the cheapest contraceptive"; "It isn't love that's blind, it's alcohol." The inescapable results of Lix's determination to avoid any kind of heroic behavior, countered by his inadvertent success at fathering new lives, create a slightly surreal atmosphere of simmering suspense. Though the effect is somewhat muted by the essentially one-note theme, in the end, the reader's realization that Lix is an exemplar of the common man (the narrative, indeed, is all about "love and love-making,... children, marriages and lives") is what gives the narrative its memorable metaphorical impact. (Nov.)