We stop the words

David Craig

  • Everything you need by A.L. Kennedy
    Cape, 567 pp, £16.99, June 1999, ISBN 0 224 04433 8

Near the start of A.L. Kennedy’s latest novel, its chief character and overriding consciousness, Nathan Staples, a successful writer of horror fiction, emerges slowly from a bout of compulsive masochistic fantasies, puts Glenn Gould on his CD player, and gets ready to hang himself from an iron hook in the central beam of his cottage, or almost hang himself – well, just enough to give himself ‘that big, blank, hot-mouthing, hair-lifting, sexy, sexy fear that he only ever met at times like this’. Must I read this? ‘You must know everything,’ said the master storyteller Isaac Babel a few years before he disappeared into a Stalinist labour camp. A taboo on such material, whether self or socially imposed, would inflict its own kind of moral injury.

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