Sunday, 30 January 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Adam Mars-Jones, Cedilla

Adam Mars-Jones is somewhat of an enigma as a writer.  He was selected by Granta as one of its 20 'Best of British Young Novelists' in both 1983 and 1993, but Cedilla is only his third novel (The Waters of Thirst appeared in 1993, and Pilcrow in 2008).  Cedilla is the second volume of a trilogy, and follows closely on from the end of Pilcrow.  The story is that of John Pilcrow, physically crippled by Still’s Disease but with his mind and determination to live an independent life very much intact.  In Cedilla, he goes to University, travels and becomes independent.  I suspect it would be best to read Pilcrow first, before attempting Cedilla. This is an ambitious work attracting critical praise and it is probably a good time to get aboard the bandwagon.

Mars-Jones was born in London in 1954. Educated at Westminster School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he studied and then taught Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. He was film critic for The Independent between 1986 and 1997 and for The Times between 1998 and 2000. He is an occasional contributor to The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, and a regular reviewer for The Observer.  His fiction includes the collections of short stories, Lantern Lecture (1981), his first book, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; and Monopolies of Loss (1992). The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis (1987) was co-written with Edmund White. Mars-Jones' first novel, The Waters of Thirst, was published in 1993.  Blind Bitter Happiness (1997), a collection of essays, includes 'Venus Envy', originally published as a pamphlet in the CounterBlasts series in 1990. Pilcrow was published in 2008.

“Cedilla continues the history of John Cromer begun by Pilcrow, described by the London Review of Books as "peculiar, original, utterly idiosyncratic" and by the Sunday Times as "truly exhilarating". These huge and sparkling books are particularly surprising coming from a writer of previously (let’s be tactful) modest productivity, who had seemed stubbornly attached to small forms. Now the alleged miniaturist has rumbled into the literary traffic in his monster truck, and seems determined to overtake Proust’s cork-lined limousine while it’s stopped at the lights. John Cromer is the weakest hero in literature -- unless he’s one of the strongest. In Cedilla he launches himself into the wider world of mainstream education, and comes upon deeper joys, subtler setbacks. The tone and texture of the two books is similar, but their emotional worlds are very different. The slow unfolding of themes is perhaps closer to Indian classical music than the Western tradition -- raga/saga, anyone? This isn’t an epic novel as such things are normally understood, to be sure. It contains no physical battles and the bare minimum of travel, yet surely it qualifies. None of the reviews of Pilcrow explicitly compared it to a coral reef made of a billion tiny Crunchie bars, but that was the drift of opinion. Page by page, Cedilla too provides unfailing pleasure. It’s the book you can read between meals without ruining your appetite.”


Lantern Lecture   Faber and Faber, 1981
Mae West is Dead: Recent Lesbian and Gay Fiction   (editor)   Faber and Faber, 1983
The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis   (with Edmund White)   Faber and Faber, 1987
Venus Envy: On Masculinity and its Discontents   (CounterBlasts series)   Chatto & Windus, 1990
Monopolies of Loss   Faber and Faber, 1992
The Waters of Thirst   Faber and Faber, 1993
Blind Bitter Happiness   Chatto & Windus, 1997
Pilcrow   Faber and Faber, 2008
Cedilla Faber and Faber, 2011

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