cover image Gerontius


James Hamilton-Paterson, Paterson James Hamilton. Soho Press, $19.95 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-939149-48-3

On an Amazon cruise in 1923, Edward Elgar, the English composer, writes in his journal, ``Oh Edward what a stupid doltish ass you've been to waste your life on the idea that art--in its small way--can make the least difference to things.'' Rather, this arrogant, depressed passage is one that Hamilton-Paterson imagines Elgar could have written. Hamilton-Paterson has taken the celebrated Briton's documented but rather uncharacteristic voyage as an opportunity to fantasize on various concerns artists might have as they age. The author, who won England's 1989 Whitbread Prize for this novel, thinks that uppermost might be a mixture of sourness about a misspent career, disappointment about over- and underrated work, and anger about an uncertain and short future. The motley crew and passenger list Hamilton-Paterson dreams up to accompany Elgar are surprising and funny and include all sorts of stuffed shirts, rascals and malcontents. The novel's drawback is that once Elgar reaches his destination, the revelation presented is more modest than one would expect, given the amusing travails he's experienced. Nonetheless, this is brilliant fancy--a literate, intelligent and entertaining work. (Apr.)