British writer Sinclair is best known on this side of the Atlantic for two cultishly popular works of nonfiction—Lights Out for the Territory, a virtuosic London travel narrative, and Rodinsky's Room
(with Rachel Lichtenstein), the history of an obscure Jewish scholar. This is Sinclair's U.S. fiction debut, and it is as distinctive as his inimitable nonfiction, distinguished by the same vital, labyrinthine prose. The novel's multiple plots are rooted in the plight of Norton, an overcommitted London poet and general hack, assigned to write a study of the half-forgotten Victorian writer, Walter Savage Landor. Since Landor attempted a utopian experiment in Llanthony, Wales, Norton makes an investigative journey there. Meanwhile, he is barraged with tapes from an investigator named Kaporal, who is trying to find the key to the mystery of Jeremy Thorpe, a real-life '70s Liberal leader who was disgraced when he was accused of conspiring to murder his lover, a male model. After Norton has a brief affair with a bookstore owner named Prudence, who disappears, he himself is apprehended by the police for Prudence's murder. Norton doesn't recognize the victim as Prudence, though he does recognize the details of the murder, which imitates a bootleg snuff film starring Britt Ekland and various political worthies shown to him by Kaporal. Finally, the Thorpe conspiracy somehow begins to dovetail with a slew of suspicious suicides in the West Country in the '80s. Sinclair is reminiscent of Pynchon in both his encyclopedic set of references and his discomfort with the palliative function of plot. Rather than resolving the complications of his story, Sinclair is determined to ramify them until they form a dense counterworld of memory and chance. B&w illus. (Sept.)
Forecast:It remains to be seen whether Sinclair's fiction will hit the same nerve as his nonfiction, but Sinclair's U.S. profile will undoubtedly rise upon publication of
Landor's Tower. Major review attention may safely be expected, and Granta is sending the author on a U.S. tour.