A writer and his women ("his past futures, his future pasts")—and an attempt to discover "what had gone wrong not only with Daniel Martin, but his generation, age, century. . . ." This is Fowles' mammoth, clubfooted new novel, with all the autobiographical indulgences and psycho-philosophical longueurs that such a prospectus almost always guarantees—and more. For alienated 20th-Century Man is here incarnated as famous screenwriter Dan, whom we follow in both first and third person as a transatlantic phone-call prises him out of the L.A. arms of filmstar Jenny and puts him on a 747 to the past: London, Devon, and Oxford, where, 25 years before, young Dan took young lane to bed but married her sister, leaving Jane to an arid, even-keeled life with donnish don Anthony. Now Anthony, dying of cancer, orders Dan to befriend varicose-veined Jane, to help her experience the juicier life she's missed. Dan obeys, finding new hope in old love—but not before he has swept out every cranny worthy of a flashback: childhood as the vicar's motherless son; first lust; blissful, unreal Oxford and early playwright success; Hollywood sell-outs, affairs, divorce, absentee fatherhood. And, in and around the muscle of incident. . . the flab of ponderings, musings, generalizations from glib to fascinating to fatuous—England vs. America, film vs. theater vs. novels, Marxism, Catholicism, the sexual revolution's "age of self." This marbling effect might take hold—if Fowles did not insist On coloring in the design with a marking pen. The third/first person shifts, distracting enough in themselves, are commented on, brooded about: "Neither the first nor the third person that he also was wanted lane in his arms again." When Dan takes lane for a cruise down the Nile with European types for company, the implicit imagery doesn't stay implicit for long: "If the Nile was human history, their ship was a pocket caricature of the human race, or at least the Western part of it." It comes as no surprise that Fowles writes magical scenes, embraceable characters (Dan, caught between "he" and "I," is the least appealing), and (sometimes) musical prose. The surprise is that he has chosen to burden his realest, smallest story with the unlikely job of explaining—and finding hope in—Twentieth-Century Life.
Read full book review >