MOONCRANKER'S GIFT by Barry Unsworth


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Barry Unsworth's quite brilliant if evasive novel is not benefited by description and while very much sui generis, invites several points of reference. Where else, since the early L. P. Hartley, has the English countryside in full summer been as decorously and beautifully described; whereas later, much later in the story (almost too explicit a word for the singular, parasitic, even maimed interpersonal experiences with which it is concerned), Unsworth's descriptive powers -- proceeding from the languorous to the lascivious and dealing with sensory experiences of every kind -- will remind you of Durrell. Mooncranker is a manipulator, a destroyer, a survivor who does not materialize beyond these roles: he is first seen when the young man Famaby, then a boy of thirteen back in England during that most impressionable -- both religiously and sexually -- period of life was given by Mooncranker an effigy of Christ. It turned out to be some maggoty meat swathed in bandages and it carried its taint all through the years to follow -- years when Farnaby remembered with desire and regret the young girl Miranda, known then. Now, later, Farnaby catches up with Mooncranker, a shambling old man, ""shrivelled at scalp and scrotum,"" dependent not only on his secret drinking but on his secretary of some years who has now disappeared. She is of course Miranda, the malleable Miranda whom Farnaby is sent to retrieve and perhaps can still salvage for himself. The objective of Mooncranker's early perverse prank is dearly stated -- based on his own maverick ""theory of outrage"" which might make some other ""form of moral progress"" possible. Many, besides Farnaby, may find it unconvincing and still more difficult to condone, but still we remain quite fascinated by Unsworth's use of compliance and devastation, all finely synchronized and demonstrated on several levels -- carnal, symbolic, mystical. He's a controlled and superb writer but the premise of the book may well contain an almost fatal liability: can we isolate outrage without including compassion?

Pub Date: March 21st, 1974
ISBN: 0393314782
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin