Shampoo and car crashes
THE PRIMITIVE Stephen Amidon Gollancz £14.99
Saturday 25 February 1995
The enabling mechanism of the book is, in good Hollywood tradition, a road accident. David Webster's best years are behind him: his marriage is shaky, his child has died and he finds little fulfilment in his work as a copywriter. One day, while out driving, he carelessly collides with a car driven by Sara. Because she is hurt, David follows her to hospital, only to find her in a coma. She fleetingly opens her eyes and smiles. The next day she disappears, but resurfaces soon afterwards outside David's office. Intrigued, he takes her to a hotel; later, lured by her oddity and her silences, he finds her a room in town, without telling his wife. As David becomes increasingly obsessed with Sara, the story of her strange and difficult past unfurls, forcing him to re- evaluate his profoundest beliefs.
This is all fine and interesting, but the weakness of the novel lies in Amidon's narrative voice. He is fatally addicted to overstatement, refusing to leave his characters alone. He forces them to speak aloud in order to reveal their motivation. This is a typical sentence: "Man, what the fuck are you going to do? David asked himself out loud." Yet when Amidon relaxes his stranglehold on the story, and steps back from the action, the novel breathes.
Suddenly, there is room and time enough for the characters to move independently. There is for instance, a lovely moment of tenderness when, early in their relationship, David washes Sara's hair. Her warm, serious voice, tinged with sadness, delights him. He moves towards her and pulls her into an embrace. The tension between them crackles like a wire; we know that he desires her.
This is the best moment of the novel precisely because Amidon withdraws from it and refuses to editorialise - and, consequently, we can respond to the lovers' inchoate sexual stirrings. Here the meaning is, for once, implicit in the gaps, the suspensions and omissions of the text, reminding us of the power of what Willa Cather called "the inexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the overtone divined by the ear but not heard by it".
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: The most extreme fan reactions on Twitter
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
Madonna might be a stand-up comedy virgin - but she wasn't terrible
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a white stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'