Blomsbury Circus, £12.99
Review: The World Was All Before Them, By Matthew Reynolds
How to Adam and Eve it
Sunday 10 February 2013
Matthew Reynolds takes the title of his second novel from the closing lines of Paradise Lost. It's the moment when control of the narrative passes over from God to Man; and if Adam is concerned with pure existence, and Eve with the meaning of existence, what will their modern counterparts be doing with their lives?
Reynolds's Adam is Philip, a newly qualified doctor, and his Eve is Sue, who has artistic ambitions and works in a contemporary gallery. The opening chapters are concerned with the multifaceted and scrambled nature of modern life (which is also the concern of Sue's projected artwork, The Whole World). Philip sees through the prism of his medical knowledge; when he has an erection, "his pudendal artery dilates and his corpus spongiosum and two corpora cavernosa begin to swell". In contrast, Sue experiences the world through a filter of conceptual art. "I [want] to try and do something about sensation …" she tells her husband. "About this weird way … that every-thing gets into us. You know, we are in the world; but it is also in us."
Reynolds' narration adds another layer of defamiliarisation: in one bravura passage where the couple are in bed, his omniscient view glides over the sheets "of paymaster cotton nurtured to woolly blobs in the fields of Tennessee" and duvet "manufactured in hilly, thrusting Zhejiang" and mattress "constructed in Leeds" and so on out of the window past the "elders, nettles, gravel, dandelion", down to the river "carrying perch, roach, bleak, a ripped Tesco bag, carp, chub …". This kind of thing is apt to cause apprehension in the reader – and not just of the "is there going to be much more of this?" kind. Surely bad things are about to happen.
Gradually, the narrative settles down. Philip is having problems at the practice, especially with a young mother and her ADHD son; there is a crisis at the gallery, so Sue might at long last get her show, but only by subterfuge. Poignantly, Reynolds shows how little Philip and Sue actually share in terms of time and thoughts. They are physically and mentally separate for much of the book's duration, and we're reminded again of Milton's couple who "through Eden took their solitary way". This is a fascinating, strange and formally delightful novel.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Martin Scorsese 'in shock' after death on set of new film Silence
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures