Unclay

T. F. Powys. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2819-0
In this intriguing, slightly musty novel originally published in 1931, Powys (Mr. Weston’s Good Wine) fleshes out Death as a character, from grim reaper to a dandified hero, an instrument of consolation and consummation rather than destruction. Having lost a parchment on which the names of his next two victims are written, a mortified Death must linger in the rural British town of Dodder, picking up odd jobs (mower, sexton) while trying to recover his document. He is as skilled at seduction as he is with a scythe, though one local beauty, Susie Dawe, kindles in the proud figure novel feelings: jealousy, sorrow, and love, whose “trade is to hurt and destroy.” Powys’s quaint village brims with eccentrics and sinners, and gentle humor exists alongside a brutal frankness about power and sex. Susie’s father invites suitors to spy on her through a peephole in her bedroom and arranges her marriage to a loathsome sadist, while the local nobleman, Lord Bullman, contemplates reinstating the feudal right of prima nocta. Powys has a tic-like reliance on apercus, which can be intriguing or almost comically banal (“To drink one opens one’s mouth”), but the overall effect is numbing. Nonetheless, it is hard not to succumb to the strange, animating energy in Powys’s allegorical tale about Death’s redeeming qualities. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/20/2018
Release date: 10/30/2018
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