cover image The Sensationist

The Sensationist

Charles Palliser / Author Ballantine Books $15 (153p) ISBN 978

Having established his literary credentials with last year's complex, bustling, Dickensian The Quincunx , Palliser now goes to the opposite extreme with this short, controlled novel of sexual obsession. The protagonist is David, a young man come from England to Scotland to work in a sophisticated computer operation. Compulsively fulfilling his need to bed women he does not know, he leads a lonely and alienated existence until he meets Lucy, an artist and single mother. Their sexual couplings are described in sensuous detail, but because Lucy is elusive and essentially unknowable, David is still unsatisfied. Darkly foreboding, the drama of their intersected lives builds to a shocking conclusion. While the novel is clever, it leaves the impression that Palliser wrote it as an intellectual exercise. Readers may feel cheated because although Palliser leads them to expect that the denouement will result from the hero's tragic flaw, the narrative culminates instead in a deed for which David is not responsible. The relentlessly flat, brooding prose, filled with images of decay, fetid smells, cold and death, sets an appropriate atmosphere, but, however well-done, this erotic novel (which may be compared to Josephine Hart's Damage ) is essentially devoid of emotion. (June)