The Sun’s Attendant
Each of these three novels is a very—David Storey would say “hugely”—ambitious and assiduous effort to prove something. The contemporary novel seems to have inherited, or at any rate arrogated to itself, the vatic function of such characteristic Romantic effusions as Blake’s or Shelley’s or Wordsworth’s long poems. God the tyrant having been (at least tacitly) deposed, by what principles or impulses ought one to live? Mailer, Styron, Baldwin, Bellow, Updike, Salinger—each is a ferocious didactic partisan of that intersection of prejudgments, impressions, sensations, inferences which makes his heart sink or dance to nobody else’s music. The aim is religious: to convert idiosyncrasy into newly minted doctrine, public gold.
David Storey’s premise is that will-he-or-won’t-he has become the ultimate question as, for Richardson, will-she-or-won’t-she used to be; and his conclusion is that we’d better:
“You’ve got to accept [says the homosexual protagonist] that there is a love that exists between men which is neither obscene nor degrading, but is as powerful and profound, and as fruitful, as that love which bears children. The love that men have for other men, as men, may be beyond some people’s powers of comprehension. But it has a subtlety and a flexibility, a power that creates order. Politics, art, religion: these things are the products of men’s loving. And by that I mean their hatred, their antagonism, their affection, as men, and their curiosity in one another as men. It isn’t that women have been deprived of these things, but simply that they can’t love in this way. They have been given something less abstract, more physical, something more easily understood. Law, art, politics, religion: these are the creation of men as men.”
Radcliffe, the vehicle for these patriarchal lucubrations, is one of the sweatiest and most ludicrously symbolified novels in years. It goes through the motions of social documentation, pretending to something like George Eliot’s minuteness and fidelity of detail (if one may mention a woman who had certain talents for art, politics, religion); but in fact no character or relationship survives the heavings of its tumid prose as, helplessly, the author at any moment labors toward the next of his numerous and quite literal climaxes:
Tolson had now pulled himself onto his chest, his thighs cushioned Leonard’s chin. He leaned hard down on the body beneath him; then, clasping Leonard’s hair in one hand, he took hold of his nose with the other so that Leonard’s mouth slowly opened for breath. Between his lips he pressed the swollen mound of flesh.
If some literary necrophile were to make a concordance of Radcliffe, he would likely discover that the nouns of highest frequency are “erection” (used primarily about tents and buildings) and “thighs” (everybody is always stroking, or rubbing, his thighs more or less innocuously, or cradling a motorcycle “between his thighs,” not to speak of more vigorous measures); and that the preponderant …