Sunday 08 June 1997
The Geography of Desire by Robert Boswell, Quartet pounds 7. Living in La Boca, an isolated coastal backwater community in an anonymous Latin American state, this novel's hero Leon is a gringo drop-out innkeeper who "wanted a life where the power of erotic passion did not pass for routine". At the same time, he desires "a wife and home and the promise of constant love". The solution to this time-sanctified conundrum is to keep two mistresses while dallying with the occasional female tourist in his ramshackle hotel. His perilously made paradise is, of course, doomed to collapse, though the demise happens with a little help from the country's civil war, which explodes over La Boca at the end. Boswell's theme is in no way original, but - the slightly wooden Leon apart - the characters are lively and their narrative flits skittishly between comic and tragic registers.
Eden Renewed: the Public and Private Life of John Milton by Peter Levi, Papermac pounds 12. Levi tells us that the history of Miltonic biography "offers a bumpy ride" and goes on to join the tradition with zest. Nor are there any notes to ease us over the potholes he leaves in our path because "I am sufficiently elderly to have forgotten by now most of my research". Indeed, he is given to imprecise, even baffling assertion, muses rhetorically when he ought be providing concrete answers and lapses occasionally into choleric denunciation. All this is very entertaining in its way, but as a guidebook to Milton's life and work it needs to be treated with circumspection.
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