Review £10, 320pp £10 (plus £2.25 p&p per order) from 0870 8001122

Ghost Music by Candida Clark

Stevie Davies loses patience with ponderous poeticism and polyphony

A young man races downhill towards the aged Jack, across an ancient landscape, but Ghost Music artfully suspends him in mid-stride. Three minutes pass and a storm is brewing. This recapitulates an earlier storm, for the boy, like a revenant, recalls a crucial earlier self of Jack's.

Candida Clark's new novel is a virtuoso set of variations on the theme of time, intricately structured. It slips between 1938 and the present, between archaeological time and the reader's time. Four major narrators pass the tale between them. They themselves are readers.

Anna has been lured to this ghostly pastoral world by a romantic American novel, whose heroine's arrival she recapitulates. Jack had been the lover of Elena, whose fictionalisation has made the area a site of passionate pilgrimage. Elena, an exotic and exilic Jewess, is "now" actually in the peaty, deliquescent heath in the form of a bog-maiden, just found by David, which is why he is running full pelt downhill.

Now where was I? Yes, David "wants to overtake himself and catch up with himself", caught as he is in "a too-slow loop of time". Oh, get on with it, I found myself thinking as I sought to advance through Clark's ingenuities.

For the characters of Ghost Music hold you up by their eternal cogitations on Time. They inhabit an inner world of lyricism, nourishing pensées rather than thoughts. All are flightily poetical and dolorously metaphysical.

The author signals her own sophisticated literary agenda by distributing her perspectivist preoccupations among the protagonists, adding a dash of Heisenberg's principle here, a Hardyan reverie there. More important than characterisation is a kind of implicit personification. Crucial roles are taken by: Time (loudly signified by a grandfather clock in the hotel) Fiction and Reality (the American novel) and Life and Death (the moor).

Candida Clark is justly known for stylistic virtuosity, for melancholy rhythms and mysterious evocativeness. Fine writing abounds in Ghost Music, which, however, deserts metaphor for simile, looping out in hundreds of tendrils that wreathe the novel's romantic heart. If an author's style contains a fingerprint, Clark's is the phrase as though, embellished by as, as if, like, and almost. I thought of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Ramsay in To The Lighthouse, measuring James's leg for a stocking: the classic instance of narrative time expanding chronological time. If only there were some socks in Ghost Music. Its bodiless atmospherics and tentacular similitudes are the product of poeticised overwriting.

What is the problem? I believe we suffer from a peculiar kind of postmodern shame. We can't bring ourselves to call an egg an egg. We shrink from mere storytelling. Polyphonic perspectivism, signalled in variant fonts, strikes us as more grown-up; grappling with Big Themes spares us realism's difficult conjuration of persons in action.

The most substantial character in Ghost Music is the bog-maiden. Clark has written a romantic, Gothic novel in which long-relished tropes - the beloved as twin, other self, uncannily pre-known, the Liebestod - are shamefacedly veiled in poeticism. Irony indeed that, in this wordscape, "wading through papery layers of illusion", only the dead can textually live.

Stevie Davies's new novel, 'Kith and Kin', will be published next year by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own