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A Permanently Baffled and Witty Observer,
This review is from: Cedilla (Hardcover)
Cedilla is an enormous novel and the second of a potential trilogy (possibly even a quartet). The reputation of Adam Mars-Jones the critic has previously eclipsed that of Adam Mars-Jones the novelist. This, however, was due to a lack of output. But, within the space of three years, Mars-Jones has delivered two novels of gigantic proportions and abilities. Taken together, Pilcrow and Cedilla come in at over 1300 pages, a substantial achievement that helps cancel the myth of literary procrastination. And it is no exaggeration to say that Cedilla is an absolute and stunning triumph.
As with Pilcrow, the reader follows the travails of John Cromer, one of the most intriguing and amusing characters in contemporary literature. In true Bildungsroman fashion, we follow this disabled and homosexual Hindu as he measures up to the vicissitudes of the 1960s-70s, an era in which his creator revels, the relentless contextual details conveying the period's numerous cultural advances. John, then, capturing the zeitgeist, seeks equality and looks to match the epoch's progressive drift. And so, much to his family's exasperation, he receives a 'normal' state education, learns to drive (a Mini), undertakes a pilgrimage to India in search of enlightenment, studies Modern Languages at Cambridge University, and then, ultimately, graduates into the arms of the Welfare system.
But it is Cromer's narrative voice, rather than these events, that attracts the reader's admiration. His interaction with the world is laced with cynicism and pedantry, the exquisite punning and linguistic fireworks ensuring that the prose is taut and no word is wasted. John may live life at a reduced pace but his writing fizzes with energy. Its humour crackles, his perception of characters, due to his outsider, observer status, precociously astute. The interfamilial relationships seethe with frustration and John negotiates them with cunning psychological mobility. He cleverly intuits the various movements and motivations, especially his mother's gradual disintegration of control. Worryingly, she just cannot relax her grip on John's 'Quest' for independence, her diminishing sanity highlighted by an irrational (though hilarious) fear of Tom Stoppard's supposedly intellectual evil.
The book is never boring, and that is due to its episodic form. Each brief chapter adds to the momentum, although, paradoxically, the painstaking analysis of certain incidents can make it seem as if time has actually stopped. But John is never less than funny, a permanently baffled and witty observer of our many affectations. And so the spiritual odyssey continues. But when will it stop? Who knows?