Email this review


This is the first US publication for English poet Sisson's 1955 novel--which is narrated backwards, beginning with Christopher Homm's death at 70 (""seventy years of imperfect morality"") and ending with his birth: ""Christopher crouched in his blindness. He was about to set out on the road to Torrington Street, and if he'd known how bitter the journey was to be he would not have come."" This life-history is indeed a bitter journey, a stern demonstration of man-as-sinner--a theme that won't surprise readers of Sisson's High Anglican poetry and his uncompromisingly Tory criticism: Christopher Homm (as in homme/man) is surely an Everyman--blindly going through the inexorable motions of predestination. Christopher is a runty toddler, later a picked-on schoolboy; in adulthood, he's a frustrated soapbox orator, the father of a daughter, a stock-clerk in a shoe factory, a hen-pecked husband; and when he does have a brief spell as a free man (leaving wife Felicia), he's miserable and lonely. True, Sisson's stately narration of this small-scale vale of tears, full of sad minutiae, provides a gloss of dry comedy: ""At all times he stood there an unfinished man, something that the sculptor had not the heart to chip any more. When the steam blew out in clouds he left his statuesque position like one who is entering life with reluctance. He heated the teapot as a careful duty."" Sometimes, in fact, his sharp, detached puppetry suggests the elements of a George Meredith-like tour de force. (""Felicia chose this moment to let loose a few tears. She too was beyond the hope of effecting any communication by means of speech, but experience should have taught her that she would accomplish no more by squirting water out of her eyes."") Finally, however, this regressive chronicle of a hopeless life, with one set-piece of desperation following another, seems to be more a philosophical exercise than a novel: careful, chilly, and tight.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1985
ISBN: 0856355674
Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row