MAG by James Sorel-Cameron


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The writing is good, the atmosphere evocative, but somehow this first novel by British writer Sorel-Cameron, full of high purpose and bent on moral instruction, all too often seems an excuse for a lot of steamy sex and gratuitous violence. Mag, the heroine and supposed figure of redemption and goodness triumphant, is a hunchback and a mute. We are led to believe that these horrible afflictions immediately put her ahead morally. And it is true that Mag, born in the inn, a sinister place beyond time and normal constraints, is kind and sensitive--and a survivor. Abandoned by her mother, Mag is reared in the kitchen and basements of the inn, and witnesses the debauchery and cruelty--all graphically described--required by the depraved appetites of the locals and passing travelers. As she grows up, Mag learns more about the inn, befriends a young pimp, and eventually joins the inn's whores. Later, Mag heads to the city, where she becomes ill, has a miscarriage, and is taken in by a kindly brother and sister. Mag and the sister visit the local prison and do all sorts of good works in a city inhabited by greedy and sadistic men who relish the suffering of others. Finally, though, Mag marries the hangman of the prison--a basically good man but a bit confused about Mag, which gives the author a chance for more violence and steamy sex. Mag has children and seems destined to spend her days with her sometime hangman. And there it ends. The trouble is that Mag, most of the characters, and the inn itself, despite often vivid, even fine writing, are too obviously symbols. Even more troubling, Mag's goodness, while frequently insisted upon, is not readily convincing--she is a little too knowing to be truly innocent. A strange book, then, with great ambitions and some small accomplishments.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton/Viking